John Barilaro saga reflects poorly on Dominic Perrottet and his government

Yet at the snap parliamentary inquiry that held its first hearing on Wednesday, Amy Brown, chief executive of Investment NSW, gave testimony that suggested politicians had played a role at important stages of the convoluted selection process which handed Barilaro the job.

Brown said she had started a selection process while Barilaro was still trade minister and informally offered the job to someone in August last year. But in October, just before Barilaro resigned from parliament, she withdrew the offer because a Barilaro staffer told her that it would be a political appointment.

Brown said that after Barilaro resigned she went back to plan A and ran a new selection process herself. But when Barilaro applied and it came down to a choice between Barilaro and another candidate, she took Barilaro’s rival to meet the new Trade Minister, Stuart Ayres.

She said she wanted to know if the new candidate had Ayres’ “confidence”. She said that something at this meeting convinced her to choose Barilaro.

The involvement of politicians at these two crucial stages sits oddly with Perrottet’s claim that the process was all at arm’s length. It is also confusing that Perrottet claimed no suitable candidate was found in the initial stage of the selection process.

Even though Barilaro has walked away, the government inquiry by former senior public servant Graeme Head into these events and the parliamentary inquiry must complete their work. They must establish whether the selection process was handled impartially and without any political influence.

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It would be completely unacceptable if this was a case of jobs for the boys.

Yet whatever the outcome of the investigations, much damage has been done. Perrottet looks weak, evasive and out of touch over the past 10 days.

He needs this like a hole in the head. He is running a minority government that is struggling in the polls and taking hits on all sides.

Many voters will blame him for the inconvenience caused by the train and teachers’ strikes this week over demands for pay rises to compensate for the rise in inflation.

Yet Perrottet is also hemmed in by the state’s $80 billion debt. He has already had to scrap or delay some of his signature public infrastructure projects to try to protect the state’s credit rating. The high rate of COVID-19 hospitalisations is putting pressure on the health system.

There is still a path to victory for Perrottet. While the ALP under Chris Minns has been reasonably disciplined in its messaging and has prosecuted the Barilaro matter vigorously, voters have reasons to be skeptical.

The ALP has shown little interest in economic reform. Its scare campaign about the government’s planned reform switching from stamp duty on property transactions to a broad-based land tax is cynical politics that flies in the face of the vast majority of economic opinion.

Voters might blame Perrottet for the inconvenience caused by strikes, but some will also blame the unions and perhaps the ALP.

Perrottet cannot afford any more of these own goals. The past 10 days have raised serious questions about his political judgment.

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