NSW Primary Industries, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Ian Macdonald has turned his Cabinet position into a family affair. His wife, Anita Gylseth, has a $110,00-a-year job in the Department of Primary Industries as the ministerial support officer for the department’s director-general.

Macdonald, who married Ms Gylseth in January, was drummed out of the leadership of the parliamentary left-wing faction after becoming a convert to the privatisation of the State’s electricity. Macdonald has blasted critics of his wife’s appointment, saying: “Her appointments (in the NSW public service) have always been made on basis of merit. In June this year she was transferred, not promoted, from a job she had held in another department since 2005. She secured the position, which was advertised, on her own merits, through an independent selection process.”

Gyselth has been on “Macca’s” staff in the past. She is remembered as his parliamentary liaison officer when she conducted negotiations with the other parties and the crossbenchers over the passage of Labor legislation.

One of the most over-bearing and self-regarding ministers in the Rees Government, Macdonald is still fielding questions in parliament about his association with Chinese entrepreneur Alan Fang, boss of the Tianda Group.

Fang attended Macdonald’s wedding and chaperoned him around China earlier this year during an official trade mission headed by then NSW Premier Morris Iemma. Macdonald created an extraordinary travel precedent when he accepted a trip on a private charter from Shenzen to Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, paid for by Fang to meet the local Communist Party chiefs. Fang accompanied minister Macdonald during official meetings even though he is a private lobbyist for mining interests.

In the NSW Upper House on November 25, National MP Duncan Gay began a question about the future of Hurlstone Agricultural College, saying: “My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries, V8s and ‘fanging’ over Asia.”

As the NSW economic meltdown translates into brutal job cuts, it’s nice to know that Labor’s heavies are fireproofed against adversity.