John Barilaro’s former chief of staff has accused the former NSW deputy premier of boasting about moving to New York City for a top trade job and ‘getting the f*** out of Sydney’.
In sensational evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, Mark Connell recalled that Mr Barilaro had just come from a meeting with then-Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and minister Stuart Ayres when he made the alleged comments.
Mr Barilaro had only been appointed the state’s trade minister the month before, Mr Connell said, adding Mr Barilaro had come directly to his office.
‘He said, “I’ve just come from a meeting with Dom and Stuart regarding trade and we’re going to bring back the Agent General in London as well as a bunch of other postings around the world,’ the staffer said.
John Barilaro (above), who created the New York position in 2020, was offered the job after Ms West was dismissed
‘I responded to Mr Barilaro and stated, ‘but John, the Agent General role will be filled well before you retire from this place’.
He claimed Mr Barilaro said: ‘I don’t want to go to London, f*** that, I’m off to New York.’ I responded and stated, ‘our current office and staff are in California.”
Pictured: Mark Connell, the former chief of staff to former deputy premier John Barilaro
‘Mr Barilaro responded and stated, “I’ll get them to put one in New York, that’s where I’m off to.’
The bombshell statement comes amid growing criticism around the decision to appoint Mr Barilaro to a top trade posting in New York – which was allegedly offered to another top public servant, Jenny West.
Mr Connell said he served as the chief of staff to the former deputy premier from April 2017 to December 2019.
‘It was mutually agreed that I relinquish my position due to Mr Barilaro ceasing to take my advice and seeking outside counsel,’ he said.
Mr Connell said he only learnt of his appointment to the trade job when it was reported by the media and said it had triggered a memory of the conversation.
‘I strongly believed that my knowledge of this incident, should be disclosed as it may be of interest or value for the Committee to consider,’ the staffer wrote.
Former public servant Jenny West (pictured) said she lost her senior job at Investment NSW and was made redundant after the New York posting was withdrawn
‘Therefore, in the matter of public interest, I contacted The Hon. Penny Sharpe, and disclosed this incident to her.’
Mr Barilaro said in a statement: ‘I completely refute the statement by Mr Connell’.
‘The conversation he has recalled is fictitious, false and only serves as a reminder as to why we had to part ways.’
The NSW parliamentary inquiry returned on Tuesday, hearing from Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment general counsel Chris Carr, who held the same role with Investment NSW from June last year to April 2022.
Former public servant Jenny West previously told the inquiry she had been offered the job of senior trade and investment commissioner to the Americas worth $500,000 a year.
Ms West said she lost her senior job at Investment NSW and was made redundant after the New York posting was withdrawn. The overseas role eventually went to Mr Barilaro, who withdrew after public outcry in June.
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment general counsel Chris Carr (above) claimed Jenny West was never offered the $500,000 trading post job in New York during an parliamentary inquest hearing on Tuesday
Appearing at the inquiry last week, Ms West said Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown told her she no longer had the job a month after she was offered the role because it was to be ‘a present for someone’.
Before the job was rescinded, Ms West told the inquiry she was sent a text message by Ms Brown on August 12, 2021, with a signed note from then-premier Gladys Berejiklian confirming she had the role.
‘Congratulations. This is one to frame,’ Ms Brown wrote, adding emojis of the Statue of Liberty and a bottle of champagne popping.
On Tuesday, Mr Carr said he had ‘limited’ involvement in the appointment of Mr Barilaro to the plum job and disputed evidence given by other witnesses.
Ms West’s testimony that she was ‘fully offered the job’ was ‘not correct’, he said.
Ms West (above) claims she was verbally offered the dream job last year before Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown told her a month after she was offered the role that her offer was retracted, saying it ‘will be a present for someone’
He added that Ms West said she was having tax troubles in the US that would prevent her accepting the New York posting for some time.
‘Ms West said: ‘I need to find an expert here in US taxes that can advise me as you will see there are implications in many areas, and importantly, I can’t move forward until this is sorted’,’ Mr Carr said.
‘I felt there were material contract terms that (had) not yet been finalised, particularly as to tax.
‘My understanding is that Ms West was well advanced in the process, but not at the end of it.’
Mr Carr was asked in September to prepare advice on why the appointment of senior trade and investment commissioners was a public service appointment, and whether it could be a ministerial one.
He told the hearing the request came from Ms Brown or her chief of staff not from Mr Barilaro, with whom he had little interaction.
‘I did receive some questions subsequent to that from a junior officer in Mr Barilaro’s office. They were related to the constitution and they were related to the Commonwealth foreign relations act,’ Mr Carr said.
Ms Brown previously told the inquiry the request came from the former deputy premier’s office.
Mr Carr (above) denied he commented on the job when he allegedly told Ms West he was ‘horrified’ by her treatment in the recruitment process, claiming he was only comforting a colleague
Ms West told the hearing she had spoken to Mr Carr after learning she would not be sent to New York for the job and took a note of their conversation at the time.
During a phone call last September, she said Mr Carr had told her he was ‘horrified’ by her situation.
‘That was her interpretation. That was not a word that I would have used,’ he told the inquiry.
‘I felt the need to console her… I felt it was open to me as a colleague, at a human level, to give her some degree of comfort.
‘I wasn’t giving advice. Any of my responses would have been taken with a grain of salt because it was an environment (where she was disappointed).
‘I don’t think I was passing an opinion on the job description for these roles.’
Ms West submitted a note she made during their September 17 phone call, after hearing the verbal offer had been withdrawn.
‘His comments were: you were offered the job, had it signed off and just waiting on the contract and then this happens … if it was me, I would be bitterly disappointed,’ she wrote.
Ms West submitted a note (above) she took during a phone conversation with Mr Carr as evidence to the inquiry in which she wrote he said he was ‘horrified’ by her treatment
Documents show another highly qualified woman, Hong Kong-based executive Kimberley Cole, was shortlisted for the position after it was re-advertised.
Other documents have been kept from public view after government lawyers claimed they were privileged.
Mr Barilaro announced last month he would withdraw from the role saying it was ‘not tenable with the amount of media attention this appointment has gained’.
He has maintained he followed the proper processes.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet (above) launched an internal inquiry into Mr Barilaro’s appointment which is due to be finished in coming weeks
‘It is clear that my taking up this role is now not tenable with the amount of media attention this appointment has gained,’ Mr Barilaro said in a statement on June 30.
‘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.’
Premier Dominic Perrottet has launched an internal inquiry into the appointment, led by former public service commissioner Graeme Head, which he expects to be finalised in the coming weeks.
Read the full statement from John Barilaro’s former chief of staff Mark Connell:
My name is Mark Connell, and I am the former Chief of Staff to the Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
I held that position from April 2017 until December 2019 when it was mutually agreed that I relinquish my position due to Mr Barilaro ceasing to take my advice and seeking outside counsel.
My employment ceased in December 2019. Upon request, my written statement to the committee is as follows and I request that this statement as evidence is to be marked as “confidential”.
Regarding the matter of the appointment of Mr John Barilaro as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas, proceeded by an independent inquiry, this Upper House committee inquiry, reports, and public statements made by various Ministers, I felt compelled to provide this statement as evidence to you.
I have read the terms of reference, and my understanding is that my evidence falls within its remit.
I believe in following the due processes of good governance. An incident occurred in my role as Chief of Staff to Mr Barilaro which concerned this matter the committee is currently investigating.
I strongly believed that my knowledge of this incident, should be disclosed as it may be of interest or value for the Committee to consider.
Therefore, in the matter of public interest, I contacted The Hon. Penny Sharpe, and disclosed this incident to her. My conversation with Ms. Sharpe has been limited to this specific matter.
I refer to an incident which occurred in April 2019. I am unable to identify the precise date because I no longer have access to my diaries.
However, I am confident it was the month of April 2019, as a meeting occurred for the relevant newly appointed Ministers responsible for trade and investment.
Mr Barilaro had been appointed the NSW Minister for Trade, approximately one month earlier, and attended this meeting. Also, in attendance was the then Treasurer, The Hon. Dom Perrottet and The Hon. Stuart Ayres, who was appointed Minister for Investment.
After this meeting, Mr Barilaro came directly to my office. He said, ‘I’ve just come from a meeting with Dom and Stuart regarding trade and we’re going to bring back the Agent General in London as well as a bunch of other postings around the world’.
He then stated, ‘This is it; this is the job for when I get the fuck out of this place’. I responded to Mr Barilaro and stated, ‘but John, the Agent General role will be filled well before you retire from this place’.
Mr Barilaro then said, ‘I don’t want to go to London, fuck that, I’m off to New York.’ I responded and stated, ‘our current office and staff are in California.’
Mr Barilaro responded and stated, ‘I’ll get them to put one in New York, that’s where I’m off too’. The conversation in relation to this matter then ended.
I did not have any involvement, knowledge, or discussions with any persons, in relation to this particular matter, prior to, or proceeding this “isolated” discussion with Mr Barilaro.
I learnt of Mr Barilaro’s appointment to this position when it was announced by the media, this prompted my recollection of the discussion outlined above.
It is for the Committee to evaluate whether my evidence is of interest to this matter.
Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee.