The Public Service Commissioner would not have endorsed Barilaro’s appointment had she known of ministerial interventions

The NSW Public Service Commissioner has told an inquiry she would never have signed off on former deputy premier John Barilaro’s appointment as New York trade commissioner had she known of the level of ministerial involvement.

Kathrina Lo was on the selection panel but said she was unaware that then-minister Stuart Ayres had played a role in deciding which candidates should be shortlisted and that he had provided an informal reference for his former colleague, Mr Barilaro.

Ms Lo said she had only learned of these interventions through evidence given to the inquiry and media reports.

She said she’d also been unaware that Mr Ayres had held a Zoom meeting with the other leading candidate, businesswoman Kimberley Cole.

“Had I known on 15th June what I know now, I would not have endorsed the report,” she said, referring to the final report of the selection panel.

The other independent member of the selection panel was former Liberal MP Warwick Smith.

He has not been called as a witness but Ms Lo said he would like it placed on the record that he would not have endorsed the report had he known the full picture.

The commissioner said no pressure had been placed on her personally to achieve a particular outcome but she expressed her displeasure at the way the process had been conducted.

“As Public Service Commissioner, I should not be viewed as cover for a recruitment process or a way for other panel members or the hiring agency to avoid accountability,” Ms Lo said.

Earlier today, Mr Barilaro’s former chief of staff Siobhan Hamblin told the inquiry that she had been given no reason to believe that he stood to benefit personally from any changes to the way the trade commissioners were appointed.

In the days before Mr Barilaro announced his plans to leave politics, emails show bureaucrats discussing changing the rules for the recruitment of new trade commissioners, then deciding the plum US role would be handled “as an internal matter”.

Ms Hamblin today said Mr Barilaro “never raised with me any personal interest in these roles”.

If he had, she said, she would have had no hesitation in flagging it as a concern.

Siobhan Hamblin wearing a pink jacket
Siobhan Hamblin today gave evidence to the inquiry.(AAP: James Gourley)

Ms Hamblin told the inquiry that in September last year, Mr Barilaro spoke to her about his intention to resign from politics.

She agreed that those conversations took place around the same time as he had asked his staff to prepare an urgent submission to cabinet seeking to change the trade jobs into ministerial appointments.

Ms Hamblin said the discussions were not unusual and were not confined to that period as he had been talking about leaving parliament since he took a month of mental health leave the previous year.

“Sometimes it was quite flippant and at other times it was more serious,” Ms Hamblin told the hearing.

A close up picture of John Barilaro's face
Former deputy prime minister John Barilaro resigned from politics last year.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

Labor’s Daniel Mookhey pressed Ms Hamblin on the timing of Mr Barilaro’s request for his staff to prepare an urgent submission to cabinet to turn the New York-based role into a ministerial appointment.

“Was it the case that the reason why Mr Barilaro wanted this cabinet submission produced ASAP and considered urgently was because at that point of time he had already started contemplating a resignation?” Mr Mookhey asked.

“That is a question for him, Mr Mookhey,” Ms Hamblin replied.

Mr Barilaro is due to appear before the inquiry on Monday.

The acting managing director of Investment NSW Kylie Bell gave evidence that the position of New York trade commissioner has been placed on hold pending the conclusion of the hearings.

She told MPs that there were currently four people working in the NSW government’s New York trade office, earning a total of $900,000 in salaries.

In addition, there are two staff based in San Francisco and one other in Washington, who are employed through Austrade.

A woman with blonde hair and glasses smiles while sitting behind a microphone
Chief executive of Investment NSW Amy Brown gave evidence earlier this week for a second time. (AAP: Bianca de Marchi)

Labor has said it would scrap the international trade roles, saying revelations in recent weeks have raised questions about whether they are delivering value for money for taxpayers.

“With our hospitals overstretched and teachers under-resourced, the Government has failed miserably to demonstrate value for money of its senior trade commissioners,” NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns said.

Mr Barilaro’s appointment has been put under the microscope for several weeks and is the subject of two separate inquiries.

He has since withdrawn from the position.

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