If NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is at all serious about better standards of governance, his Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres has to resign. It’s an open-and-shut case of misleading Parliament — something that used to be, by common agreement, the political equivalent of a capital offence.
“It is important to recognise that at the end of the first round of recruitment there was no suitable candidate identified,” Ayres told the NSW Parliament a month ago about John Barilaro’s appointment to the lucrative New York trade posting. Except we now know Ayres was told on August 17 last year that “a full recruitment process for the role of senior trade and investment commissioner (STIC) — Americas has been undertaken and a successful candidate identified”.
The “successful candidate”, a term used over and over again in the document, was Jenny West. West was, according to the document, to meet with Ayres to discuss her role in New York.
We know Ayres saw this document, and not just his staff, because his signature is on it, “noting” it. There’s no parsing or explaining this away, no John Howard-style casuistry, no wriggle room. It’s stone-cold bang-to-rights stuff.
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Ayres now says the document “does not represent the end of the recruitment process”. Except (1) it does and (2) that doesn’t matter. Which part of “full recruitment process” isn’t clear?
The brief itself, including the words “full recruitment process” and “successful candidate”, was signed by Amy Brown, the secretary who later withdrew the offer to West at a ludicrous “walking meeting” at Balmoral because the job was to be “a present for someone”. Brown should go immediately as well. Her claim that the process wasn’t actually completed doesn’t stand up either.
And regardless of whether it was the end of the recruitment process, Ayres told Parliament “no suitable candidate” was identified when he read a brief saying one was, quite clearly. Does “successful” mean “suitable”? No — but in the context of any recruitment process in a public service body, “successful” definitionally means “suitable”. You can’t be appointed within the public service if you’re not suitable.
The best Ayres can do is suggest Brown has subsequently misled him when the scandal blew up, and gave him faulty advice that he relied on for his statement to Parliament in June. But that signature of his makes it impossible to see how this isn’t a simple case of misleading the house.
Perrottet would face similar danger except that he made clear when he made a similar statement to Parliament that he was relying on advice from Ayres:
I met with the minister for enterprise, investment and trade this morning and I was advised the following… The first recruitment process did not identify a suitable candidate.
Perrottet was included in the list of ministers whom Brown told Ayres would be notified, so Perrottet would have received a similar brief — but it was not his portfolio. He is entitled to rely on the advice of his minister, who told him the recruitment process hadn’t identified a suitable candidate.
The fact that we’re parsing the meaning of “successful” is itself ludicrous: right from the grubby Friday afternoon media release — indicating it knew this whole thing reeked — the NSW government has mishandled this scandal, and Perrottet’s apparent incapacity to display any initiative in relation to it has left his premiership adrift.
If his insistence that he’ll be applying higher standards than applied under Gladys Berejiklian is to be justified, then a minister misleading Parliament, no matter how senior, should go. It might also give Perrottet a chance to reassert his now much-reduced authority as leader.