by PAUL COLLITS – THERE’S a whiff of a dying government in Macquarie Street.
While seeking to sell an election budget delivered by a treasurer who, in a rare moment of public service, was seen doing his job rather than white-anting his own side of politics, the NSW Government began, yet again, to implode under the weight of its own questionable activities.
So much for the Premier’s much heralded policy innovations and his attempts to make a dead cat of a government look and smell fresh.
It was a case of visitation by the ghosts of Terry Metherell’s past.
For younger readers, I probably need to explain who this Metherell character is. And what he has to do with the latest Pork Barrellaro saga.
To summarise, the NSW Government has, without any need or argument in their favour, decided to re-introduce twentieth century dinosaurs called “agent generals” and “trade and investment commissioners” to represent NSW in exotic foreign cities.
They are meant to drum up business for the State, although there is no firm evidence of which I am aware that they have ever done any good for the taxpayer.
Here is the announcement on June 17, 2022: “Minister for Enterprise, Investment & Trade Stuart Ayres today announced former Deputy Premier and Trade & Industry Minister John Barilaro has been appointed to the role of Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner to the Americas.
“Helen Sawczak has also been appointed to the role of Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner to Greater China.
“The appointments are the last of six Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner appointments for the State following a highly competitive and rigorous global talent search managed by specialised recruitment firm NGS Global.
“Mr Barilaro and Ms Sawczak will be important assets for NSW businesses, helping them find new international markets and customers and driving investment into the State,” Mr Ayres said.
Whatever the dubious merits of these trade positions, such appointments can be useful ways to offload politicians past their used-by date and reward mates. Like politically appointed ambassadors and high commissioners.
Ironically, Mr Ayres’ partner, the now mercifully former foreign minister, Marise Payne, was herself no stranger to giving plum under-the-radar diplomatic jobs to old pals.
Just look up the recently retired Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand.
“A highly competitive and rigorous global talent search”.
Let these words ring in your ears. Maybe that applied in the case of Ms Sawczak. One can only hope so.
No one would mistake John Barilaro for a best-in-breed investment supremo.
In any case, The Guardian noted: “And there was reason for close scrutiny of the candidates. The lucky recipient of the New York job would receive an annual taxpayer-funded salary of $500,000, plus expenses. That’s about $150,000 more than the deputy premier received.”
A discrepancy amount that he probably noticed.
A highly competitive talent search? We already know the political class thinks we’re idiots.
The mob in Macquarie Street also conveniently ended the vaccine mandates for teachers this week, in an inevitably sychronised announcement with Daniel Andrews, without anyone batting an eyelid.
This, despite extremely high COVID case numbers and deaths, much higher, as it happens, than when unvaccinated teachers were being shown the door.
Oh, that’s right, we are now “living with” COVID.
All those things “they” did to the people of NSW for two years, locking us up, stopping perfectly healthy citizens from visiting Big W and Kmart, making us wear useless face masks, throwing tens of thousands of people out of work – and all for what?
No, they definitely take us for mugs.
They expect us to believe they care about flood victims. I understand the rate of payouts under one program to those who are still homeless in the Northern Rivers has rocketed up to about 27 per cent of claims lodged.
While there is plenty of pork for Barilaro, they think they’re all frauds up in flood central.
Meanwhile, Resilience NSW, which oversees the Disaster Relief Grant, said it had approved about 330 grants from more than 2440 applications.
And to think that poor Mr Barilaro had to leave politics because of the heavy toll public life took on him!
He should try living as a homeless person, having lost all your belongings, your house uninhabitable and possibly also your business gone, while you helplessly wait meagre assistance from Sydney.
That is what a heavy toll looks like.
This miserable, bureaucratised approach to flood victims is not a good look, especially when you place it side-by-side with the jobs for the boys regime in Macquarie Street.
They expect us to simply believe anything and everything they say. There is literally no level too low for them to stoop.
The Guardian again: “The timing of this is just terrible,” one minister told The Guardian.
“I don’t get or understand how the minister who was in this portfolio less than 10 months ago is now the preferred candidate in the job.”
The timing is terrible? Still only thinking of themselves and the fate of the government.
They simply do not understand why fully one-third of the voters no longer vote for a legacy Party. Or why, in some electorates, a similar percentage don’t even bother to turn out to vote.
The minister responsible for re-introducing these wastes-of-space was none other than, yes, you guessed it, John Barilaro, he of the pork barrelling fame and deputy premier to Gladys of Willoughby.
He then decided he wanted to be one. In New York!
A just reward for his many years of public service, or, at any rate, his years of service to richly deserving electorates that were chosen to consume his government’s selectively disbursed largesse.
This was happening last October (2021). The problem was, that when Pork Barrellaro decided he wanted a piece of the Big Apple, appointments to these gigs were based on merit and handled by the public service and their inevitable executive search firm buddies.
And an appointment had already been made.
(The highly qualified unfortunate who had the job and then had it taken away has been paid off. I mean out.)
A suitable time was allowed to pass for the former leader of the Nationals to spend some quality time with his family and get his passport up-to-date, before his appointment to New York was announced very, very quietly late on a Friday afternoon.
This is what late Friday afternoons are for. Then the problems began.
The Premier – who, after all, simply inherited this and did not cause it – has been twisting and turning trying to explain and justify a rancid act of government committed by the former leadership.
Remember that the perpetrator of this scam is, mercifully, no longer in public life, and is still being investigated for corruption herself.
Perrottet looks and sounds like someone not quite convinced of his brief. Hence the seeming prevarications, the inaccuracies, the shifts-of-story, the feeble excuses, the apparent lack of knowledge of his own governance processes – and now the inevitable inquiries, as he slithers on.
“The executive did not make the decision,” he said this week. “It was a decision made by the public service following an independent recruitment process.”
As The Australian newspaper reports: “Mr Perrottet claimed on Thursday that cabinet could not lawfully intervene in the selection process because the trade position was a senior public service role approved from a shortlist by Ms Brown “on merit”.
Except that, err, that is not the process, as Ms Brown of Investment NSW helpfully explained to the executive search firm in one leaked email: “But on October 3 last year – the day before Mr Barilaro announced his resignation from politics – Ms Brown emailed the recruitment firm engaged to find suitable candidates saying its services would no longer be needed because the positions were to become ministerial appointments. [emphasis added].
Once Barilaro decided to head for New York, they had to change the rules, asap. To make it a ministerial appointment.
Even though the job had already been decided. The Premier has seemingly misled the public, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not.
If he had said that in Parliament, there would be grounds to demand his resignation.
Dying governments issue pardons and rewards to their mates – and leak like sieves.
We are witnessing both, and it isn’t pretty.
You get to the point in systems with fixed-term parliaments when you begin to long for election day, just so the whole sorry mess can be over.
As more and more highly detailed and specific information comes to light, the worse it gets.
And people think those who believe in conspiracies are the dumb ones.
As I often say, no one who has ever worked in government for any length of time does not believe in conspiracies and coverups. They happen every single day.
Now there are two reviews of the sorry saga, one by the parliament and the Premier’s own internal review.
Here is The Australian again: “Earlier, Mr Perrottet directed Department of Premier & Cabinet Secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter to conduct a review of the Barilaro appointment, which would be handed to him for consideration and made public.
Mr Coutts-Trotter is Mr Perrottet’s department head who was hand-picked for the position last October when Mr Perrottet succeeded Gladys Berejiklian as premier and sacked her recent appointment to the post, Jim Betts.
Jim Betts is a former member of the British Communist Party. Coutts-Trotter is a convicted drug dealer who is married to Labor’s Tanya Plibersek. Funny old world.
But back to Terry Metherell.
In 1992, the then Premier, Nick Greiner – who established The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – came a cropper when he became ICAC’s first political victim.
It was alleged that he had induced Metherell, a former Liberal minister (of considerable merit, as it happens), who subsequently became the Independent Member for Pittwater, to accept a senior public sector position, leave the parliament and enable the Liberals to win back a seat they had lost.
Like Perrottet now, Greiner was running a decidedly uncomfortable minority government supported by a cluster of Independents.
For these Independents, Metherell’s appointment had a political odour about it. Greiner had to go in order for the Libs to be allowed to continue to govern.
If all this sounds a little familiar, it should.
Setting to one side all of the emerging detail in the cesspit of leaks about the appointment of Barilaro, and whether proper process was followed, there is the question of inducements.
Was a public servant persuaded to “go quietly” and to step aside for the political appointment? Did the government gain by Barilaro’s departure?
Some might argue, how could it not? Barilaro, with his previous stress leave and messy legal entanglements, his potshots at the Liberals over koalas (of all things) and his proud admission of pork-barreling (or grants-for-votes) was a retirement waiting to happen.
Especially given his proximity to Gladys, herself (again) under the watchful gaze of ICAC.
What a mess. So let’s offshore Barilaro and start completely afresh.
Inducements for perceived political gain? The ghosts of Metherell may still haunt the NSW Liberal Party. Yes, thirty years on.
Greiner was subsequently exonerated in the NSW Supreme Court, who found him not to be corrupt. This decision was, by then, politically irrelevant. Nor does it mean that the whole system doesn’t stink. Still.
(It is nice to see the mainstream media getting onto this story, and that at least some journalists still have a sense of history.)
Seemingly, then, ICAC has failed. It was invented to sniff out, and hopefully deter, corrupt behaviour by public officials.
Precisely thirty years on from the Terry Metherell affair, politicians in NSW still, clearly, believe that massively expensive public sector appointments are their own personal play things.
The presence of ICAC obviously doesn’t deter them. Which is an argument, of course, for its continued existence.
Until the political vermin come to understand the importance to us of their own rules relating to probity, and those who do not are all expunged from public office, we will just have to put up with what ICAC’s ill-informed critics continue to call a “kangaroo court”.
When the parliament is full of hyenas and jackals, you need kangaroos. With a serious bit of kick.
On the morning of the next State election, I wonder how many voters will remember the detail of this week’s budget, as they head off to the polling booths.
I am guessing many will remember the name Giovanni Domenic Barilaro.PC