In response to a detailed series of questions, the Prime Minister’s Office replied yesterday: ″Who the Prime Minister considers appointing to his ministry is a matter for the Prime Minister alone.″
Elliott and Perrottet have had a strained relationship at times, while Elliott and Kean have made no secret of their mutual loathing.
Sources familiar with the discussion say Perrottet also spoke to Elliott about the role of general agent in London, describing Stephen Cartwright, who holds the post, as “a problem”.
Ayres, who stepped down as trade minister on Tuesday after a draft extract of an independent inquiry into the Barilaro appointment raised questions about whether he breached the ministerial code of conduct, also spoke to Elliott about his policy plans.
Ayres went to Elliott’s office to discuss whether the minister intended to stay in parliament and also spoke about the agent-general, two people with knowledge of the conversion have confirmed.
The Sun Herald yesterday asked Perrottet’s office whether he discussed the agent-general post with Elliott, whether he raised issues with Cartwright with Elliott, whether the Prime Minister asked Ayres to speak to Elliott about his plans to stay in Parliament, and whether the Premier asked Ayres to speak . to Elliott about the role of agent general. It refused to answer.
The London role is a statutory appointment, meaning it is the responsibility of the public service and not ministers.
The nature of the agent-general discussions is unclear, but the revelation could attract the attention of the parliamentary inquiry looking into Barilaro’s appointment. The London position has already come under investigation after it emerged there had been “protracted” and “difficult” contract negotiations when Cartwright was appointed to the role. Cartwright is the former chief executive of the state’s top business lobby group Business NSW.
The investigation examines the recruiting process that led to Barilaro being awarded the New York job.
He claimed the role after an earlier offer was made to bureaucrat Jenny West and then later rescinded.
Investment NSW boss Amy Brown, who employed Cartwright, told the inquiry that when negotiations hit a “particularly difficult” patch, Cartwright would say “Well, I’ll just escalate this to the Deputy Premier or the Premier”. “I got the impression that he [Cartwright] felt like he had some kind of elevated status,” Brown said.
The Barilaro saga has been a rolling crisis for seven weeks, but intensified recently as more evidence emerged of Ayres’ apparent influence over decision-making.
On Friday, NSW public service commissioner Kathrina Lo gave a scathing review of the Barilaro recruitment process, saying she would never have signed off on a final selection report if she knew then what she knows now. Lo told the inquiry that she has since obtained key information which was never disclosed to independent panel members.
In addition to Ayres, Perrottet was also forced to fire Fair Trade Minister Eleni Petinos last week amid allegations of workplace bullying.
He initially said he was confident an anonymous complaint against her had been handled properly. New allegations emerged, however, and Perrottet removed her from the cabinet.
Perrottet yesterday used a meeting of the Venstre faithful party to support the modernization of the organization after the federal election defeat. In his first Cabinet speech as Prime Minister,
Perrottet acknowledged the uphill battle ahead for a party “disillusioned” by the horror poll in May, but insisted the failure provided a chance to reset.
“We cannot be a party that rides on its record but does not set a vision for the future,” he said. “It may be controversial to say in this room, but I think we failed to do that at the federal level.”
Perrottet announced that the candidate preselection for the March state election would open in two weeks, directly calling out the federal preselection debacle and admitting that ward members were right to feel they had been disenfranchised. “One of the most important rights of party members is the power to choose candidates to represent your values,” he said.
With Lucy Cormack
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