The fallout from former Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s attempt to snare a plum New York trade commissioner job continues with damning new revelations almost every week.
The New South Wales Coalition government is moving into damage control and the Labor opposition can hardly believe its luck, given an election is in March.
Ministers apologising for their “errors of judgment” resembles the lead-up to the electoral disaster that befell the Labor government more than a decade ago and which has been a major factor in keeping it out of office in NSW since.
The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recently laid charges of abuse of public office against former Labor finance minister Joe Tripodi, former planning minister Tony Kelly, Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid (already in jail for separate matters) and Kelly’s former chief-of-staff Gilbert “Laurie” Brown. They are accused of falsifying a Labor cabinet submission about a proposed multi-million-dollar sewerage and water deal.
“The sense of deja vu is also provoked in another way,” the Sydney Morning Herald opined on July 22. “The current Coalition government somewhat resembles Kristina Keneally’s [Labor] government in 2011 in that it is so busy dealing with cascading scandals over its integrity and honesty that it has no free air to pursue its own agenda.”
The pressure is starting to build up on the Dominic Perrottet government.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) recommended on July 20 the DPP consider charging Drummoyne Independent MP John Sidoti for “serious corrupt conduct” , to improperly influence City of Canada Bay Liberal councillors to benefit his family’s property interests in Five Dock from 2013–2017.
Perrottet wants Sidoti to quit, but the former Liberal maintains he is innocent.
ICAC is also looking into former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the business ventures of Daryl Maguire, her former secret boyfriend. ICAC has extended its investigations until end of October.
Meanwhile, even Barilaro described the scandal engulfing him and the government as a “shit show”. He was appointed to a $500,000-a-year New York job after deputy secretary of Investment NSW Jenny West had been told she had the position. She was later sacked and told it was going to someone “as a present”.
Barilaro withdrew from the position in June, as the pressure grew from the parliamentary inquiry probing the scandal. The inquiry also led to Deputy Premier Stuart Ayres standing down amid allegations of improper conduct during the selection process.
The inquiry into Barilaro’s appointment has uncovered another shonky deal — the appointment of the agent-general in London. Stephen Cartwright, a late entrant, had his candidate brief “massaged” to be appointed, the inquiry heard. Cartwright is a former head of the NSW Business Chamber.
Another candidate had already been identified for the role, but Cartwright was belatedly “recommended into the process” and ultimately handed the job. The inquiry heard that Cartwright had expected an $800,000 salary and became “threatening” in negotiations over his contract and expenses.
It was told Cartwright invoked the premier and sought the intervention of former trade minister Stuart Ayres via WhatsApp over concerns about how his pay was structured.
Many, including former federal public servant John Menadue, are arguing that state government offices overseas are a waste of public money and should be abandoned. “The States are better than the Commonwealth in such matters as health and education,” Menadue wrote. “They should stick to their knitting and stop deluding themselves about their overseas role.”