A senior public servant has told an inquiry the plum New York trade ambassador job she had won through an interview process was to ‘be given as a present to someone’.
Jenny West, a former Investment NSW executive, told an inquiry into how the job was eventually given to former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro that after requesting a meeting to voice her concerns over the process she was fired.
Ms West was offered the senior trade and investment commissioner role to the Americas in a briefing signed by former premier Gladys Berejiklian on August 12 of last year.
Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown had even sent her a text message featuring a Statue of Liberty emoji and a champagne bottle ‘celebration’ emoji, Ms West said.
‘Congratulations, this is one to frame,’ Ms Brown wrote, attaching the signed note from the former premier to the text.
However, Ms West said she was told on September 16 that cabinet was instead going to pick the appointment from the political sphere and that her job may also be redundant.
‘In the space of four weeks, I went from having been appointed to the role of the senior trade and investment commissioner for the Americas to potentially not having a job,’ Ms West told the inquiry on Monday.
Ms West was texted by her manager celebrating her scoring the coveted role
On October 14 last year, Jenny West said she was told by Ms Brown she was not getting the posting.
‘Ms Brown said that the position – and this is a quote – “will be a present for someone”,’ Ms West told the inquiry.
‘She added, and I again quote, “you are an extraordinary performer, and I am upset that this has happened”.
‘On 19 November 2021, I received a letter terminating my employment effective from close of business 30 November.
‘This was clearly not how I’d expected my public sector career to end. Until the events of last year, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the federal and NSW public sectors.’
NSW trade secretary Amy Brown (above) sent Ms West a congratulatory text after she was offered the job as New York trade ambassador
Mr Barilaro, who was then-NSW trade minister, intervened to change the process for hiring the state’s trade ambassador to the US and eventually claimed the job himself
Responding to a question from Labor MP Daniel Mookhey on Monday, Ms West said the reason given for her termination was ‘no cause’.
As NSW trade minister, Mr Barilaro created the New York trade commissioner role in November 2020, one of five similar jobs in major capital cities across the world.
After being offered the job in May, Mr Barilaro withdrew in June citing the controversy over the appointment.
‘It is clear that my taking up this role is now not tenable with the amount of media attention this appointment has gained,’ he said in a statement.
‘I believe my appointment will continue to be a distraction and not allow this important role to achieve what it was designed to do, and thus my decision.
‘I stress, that I have always maintained that I followed the process and look forward to the results of the review.’
Trading places: How John Barilaro won – and then relinquished – a prime New York gig
The NSW Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner post in New York comes with a $487,000 salary plus a $16,000 cost of living allowance.
It was created along with four other similar roles by then-NSW trade minister John Barilaro in November 2020.
Then-deputy secretary of Investment NSW Jenny West was told she had won the New York job in August after beating out three other candidates from a select shortlist of interviewees.
Mr Barilaro requested changes to the recruitment process in late September which required it to be signed off by state cabinet, although this has not occurred.
This led to the verbal offer to Ms West being withdrawn.
The relationship between Ms West and Investment NSW then became ‘irreconcilable’.
The job was advertised in a process handled by Investment NSW and global recruiting company.
Mr Barilaro was verbally offered the job in May, signed a three-year contract in June and was due to begin the role in July.
Nearly $1 million was spent refurbishing part of the Australian consulate in New York for Mr Barilaro to occupy.
Trade department secretary Amy Brown worked under Mr Barilaro when he was trade minister.
She said she was not aware whether Mr Barilaro ever asked his replacement as trade minister, Stuart Ayres, to give him the job.
Ms Brown expressed concerns last year in internal communications that Mr Barilaro’s office would try to veto her picks for the role.
She said a staffer on temporary secondment had misunderstood when she sent an email, since resurfaced, requesting the premier’s approval for two other commissioner appointments despite the recruitment being an apolitical process.
Ms Brown said Ms West was an ‘excellent candidate’ who had exceeded all the criteria to win the New York job after beating out a select shortlist of four people interviewed.
However, all appointments had to be frozen after a request on October 3 from Mr Barilaro’s office that commissioner positions be moved from being an in-house departmental decision to one requiring cabinet approval.
Despite cabinet agreeing to draft legislation to this effect, the New York job has been given without ministerial signing off, unlike other similar roles.
The job was then re-advertised in December and the process was handled by Investment NSW and a global recruiting company with Mr Barilaro being announced as the successful candidate earlier this month.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who called the appointment an internal public service matter, has established an independent inquiry separate to the parliamentary one into the hiring process.
Mr Barilaro retired from politics on October 4 just days after Gladys Berejiklian sensationally quit as premier when the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, announced it was investigating her.