A senior public servant has told an inquiry the plum New York trade ambassador job she had won through an interview process was to ‘be given as a present to someone’.
Jenny West, a former Investment NSW executive, told an inquiry into how the job was eventually was claimed by former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro that after requesting a meeting to voice her concerns over the process she was fired.
Ms West was offered the senior trade and investment commissioner role to the Americas in a briefing signed by former premier Gladys Berejiklian on August 12 of last year.
Jenny West, a former senior bureaucrat with Investment NSW, has been testifying before an inquiry into how she was awarded a plum trade ambassador role only to have wrenched away and later given to former deputy prime minister John Barilaro
Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown had even sent her a text message featuring a Statue of Liberty emoji and a champagne bottle ‘celebration’ emoji, Ms West said.
‘Congratulations, this is one to frame,’ Ms Brown wrote, attaching the signed note from the former premier to the text.
Ms West was texted by her manager celebrating her scoring the coveted role
However, Ms West said she was told on September 16 that cabinet was instead going to pick the appointment from the political sphere and that her job was also likely to fall under the ax.
‘In the space of four weeks, I went from having been appointed to the role of senior trade and investment commissioner for the Americas to potentially not having a job,’ Ms West told the inquiry on Monday.
Ms West said she found the decision to take away the job bewildering.
‘I was surprised with how the process had been done,’ she said.
‘I thought the process was unusual because it was a proper public sector process – I went for a job. I applied for it.
‘I got offered the role and then to have that role, withdrawn and then halfway though to be told that it was going to be a political appointment, not a public sector appointment.
‘I couldn’t get my head around how a process could be stopped midway and then to be told that I’d lost my existing job. So, I to be honest, I couldn’t get my head around that. ‘
NSW trade secretary Amy Brown (above) sent Ms West a congratulatory text after she was offered the job as New York trade ambassador
On October 14 last year, Jenny West said she was told by Ms Brown she was not getting the posting.
‘Ms Brown said that the position – and this is a quote -‘ will be a present for someone ‘,’ Ms West told the inquiry.
‘She added, and I again quote,’ you are an extraordinary performer, and I am upset that this has happened ‘.
‘On 19 November 2021, I received a letter terminating my employment effective from close of business 30 November.
‘This was clearly not how I’d expected my public sector career to end. Until the events of last year, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the federal and NSW public sectors. ‘
Ms West emailed the Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter on October 11 to request a meeting but she said there was no reply.
Mr Barilaro, who was then-NSW trade minister, intervened to change the process for hiring the state’s trade ambassador to the US and eventually claimed the job himself
She said the meeting was not to discuss the recruitment process but to argue the case for her job.
She said contrary to media reports the email did not have a 49-page report expressing her concerns over the recruitment process.
‘I would have loved to have stayed in the public service. I felt that there was a lot more that I could add in terms of my skills, ‘she said.
‘That was the intention of my 15 minute discussion with Mr. Michael Coutts-Trotter.
‘I did have concerns over the prior process, but I’d accepted that it was a ministerial or… a parliamentary appointment versus a public sector appointment.
‘I’d accepted that, but I did want to stay in my current role because I felt that I had a lot more to offer. And I was quite passionate about some of those key projects that I was working on that I wanted to make a difference. ‘
Trading places: How John Barilaro won – and then relinquished – a prime New York gig
The NSW Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner post in New York comes with a $ 487,000 salary plus a $ 16,000 cost of living allowance.
It was created along with four other similar roles by then-NSW trade minister John Barilaro in November 2020.
Then-deputy secretary of Investment NSW Jenny West was told she had won the New York job in August after beating out three other candidates from a select shortlist of interviewees.
Mr Barilaro requested changes to the recruitment process in late September which required it to be signed off by state cabinet, although this has not occurred.
This led to the verbal offer to Ms West being withdrawn.
The relationship between Ms West and Investment NSW then became ‘irreconcilable’.
The job was advertised in a process handled by Investment NSW and global recruiting company.
Mr Barilaro was verbally offered the job in May, signed a three-year contract in June and was due to begin the role in July.
Nearly $ 1 million was spent refurbishing part of the Australian consulate in New York for Mr Barilaro to occupy.
Trade department secretary Amy Brown worked under Mr Barilaro when he was trade minister.
She said she was not aware whether Mr Barilaro ever asked his replacement as trade minister, Stuart Ayres, to give him the job.
Ms Brown expressed concerns last year in internal communications that Mr Barilaro’s office would try to veto her picks for the role.
She said a staffer on temporary secondment had misunderstood when she sent an email, since resurfaced, requesting the premier’s approval for two other commissioner appointments despite the recruitment being an apolitical process.
‘The next I heard from him was by way of a formal letter terminating my employment one month later,’ she said.
Responding to a question from Labor MP Daniel Mookhey on Monday, Ms West said the reason given for her termination was ‘no cause’.
Ms West said she received only the standard redundancy package of 38 weeks’ pay.
She noted a very similar position to hers at the same level had recently been advertised on LinkedIn.
In leaked transcripts from a previous closed session of the inquiry Ms Brown said after Ms West had won the role concerns were raised over absences from work, unnecessary work trips and that she might have embellished her CV.
Ms West strongly refuted those claims.
‘I understand Ms Brown gave evidence to this committee that she now thought me unsuitable for the appointment,’ Ms West said.
‘This suggestion is contrary to my selection by an independent committee following a competitive process. And contrary to what Ms Brown told me at the time of my appointment during my employment in NSW government, I have never received any negative feedback about my performance.
‘Ms Brown’s suggestion that there were discrepancies in my curriculum vitae is false.
‘My CV was given to an independent panel well ahead of the selection process.’
Ms West said she believed she and Ms Brown had a good relationship and had found comments that she the relationship between her and Investment NSW had grown ‘troublesome’ surprisingly.
‘I was very shocked and upset. I’ve worked exceptionally hard for my career. Over the years and I’m a very professional person, ‘she said.
‘I work because I enjoy it. I love working with people. I love building great teams. So I was quite horrified by what she had said because that is so different from who I am. ‘
As NSW trade minister, Mr Barilaro created the New York trade commissioner role in November 2020, one of five similar jobs in major capital cities across the world.
Ms West said she that in the space of four weeks she went from being appointed to the New York job to being told she was likely to be made redundant
After being offered the job in May, Mr Barilaro withdrew in June citing the controversy over the appointment.
‘It is clear that my taking up this role is now not tenable with the amount of media attention this appointment has gained,’ he said in a statement.
‘I believe my appointment will continue to be a distraction and not allow this important role to achieve what it was designed to do, and thus my decision.
‘I stress, that I have always maintained that I followed the process and look forward to the results of the review.’
The job was then re-advertised in December and the process was handled by Investment NSW and a global recruiting company with Mr Barilaro being announced as the successful candidate earlier this month.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who called the appointment an internal public service matter, has established an independent inquiry separate to the parliamentary one into the hiring process.
Mr Barilaro retired from politics on October 4 just days after Gladys Berejiklian sensationally quit as premier when the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, announced it was investigating her.