Senior bureaucrat feared ministers ‘messing with due process’ of trade posts, emails show

In another email, Brown’s chief of staff said she would prepare drafts of the interview panel reports for then-treasurer Dominic Perrottet, then-deputy premier Barilaro, then-jobs and investment minister Stuart Ayres and two senior public servants.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet maintains the appointment process was conducted at arm’s length from government.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet maintains the appointment process was conducted at arm’s length from government.Credit:Janie Barrett

The following week, Investment NSW wrote to Betts’ office insisting they send a signed copy of his selection panel report for the US role, to be included in a brief to the deputy premier’s office “ASAP”.

At the time Dominic Perrottet was the treasurer and Barilaro the deputy premier. Barilaro resigned less than three months later, and was appointed US trade commissioner this month.

Leader of the opposition in the upper house Penny Sharpe said the public was right to be concerned by revelations contained in the internal emails.

“These documents show that NSW most senior public servants have been forced to try to protect recruitment processes from ministerial interference,” she said.

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The emails revealed by the Herald challenge repeated claims by the government that the appointments were strictly public service decisions. Perrottet on Tuesday again insisted the trade commissioner roles were not statutory roles and independent of cabinet.

“I’ve made that very clear. They are roles that are made by the public service and a determination by the secretary of the department.”

However, he said Barilaro had told him of his intention to apply for the US role in a “social setting” some time after the former deputy premier left parliament.

“I think in a social setting he may have said he was applying for a position, which was an independent process,” Perrottet said. “I speak to people socially all the time and there is always interested people saying I’m interested in this, I’m interested in that.”

“I was advised by Minister Ayres at some date … that he had applied for the role. But that was an independent process in which we were not to be intervening,” he added.

Perrottet said it was not appropriate to provide a running commentary on the appointment, having commissioned an independent review, which he will receive in coming weeks and make public.

An Investment NSW spokesperson did not respond to questions, saying the agency was assisting the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the upper house reviews of the US trade role “and as such it is not appropriate to make any further comment”.

The Herald on Tuesday revealed Ayres met with the preferred candidates for two trade commissioner roles late last year, with further emails revealing Investment NSW wanted candidate approval from the premier before their appointments were publicly announced.

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The premier said the emails had been brought to his attention through the media and that there was nothing known to him or his chief of staff in relation to the approvals process.

Opposition treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the government needed to explain why the incoming leader of the public service – Betts – appeared to be “warning his future subordinate to expect ministerial skullduggery”.

He added that the public deserved to know why Investment NSW was “rushing to tell the deputy premier’s office about the panel’s decision to select Ms West for the job”.

Betts was announced as the incoming secretary of the premier’s department on July 10; however, the role was rescinded when Perrottet took office as premier in October and appointed Michael Coutts-Trotter.

Coutts-Trotter is conducting the inquiry commissioned by the premier, which he has outsourced to EY consultant Graeme Head.

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