Photography: Dan Himbrechts/AAP
A member of an interview panel that selected John Barilaro for a lucrative commercial job in New York told an inquiry that she would not have approved his hiring if she “knew then what I know now” about the involvement of high government figures in the process. of recruitment.
New South Wales Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo has given evidence that she did not know about “the number and nature” of interactions between now sacked Minister Stuart Ayres and NSW Investment Chief Amy Brown during the process. of recruitment.
“If I had known on June 15 what I know now, I would not have endorsed the report,” she told a parliamentary inquiry investigating the appointment on Friday.
Lo told the inquiry that he was not aware that Ayres had been on the list of candidates, first revealed by the Guardian, or that he acted as an “informal reference” for Barilaro.
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Lo said he was unaware that Ayres had met Kimberly Cole, an award-winning businesswoman initially ranked above Barilaro in the second round of recruiting.
She told the inquiry that she was denied “relevant information” about the hiring process.
“As a public service commissioner, I should not be seen as cover for a recruitment process or as a way for other panelists or hiring agencies to avoid accountability,” she said.
She said that another independent panelist, Warwick Smith, had asked her to “register [that had] he knew then what he knows now he would not have endorsed the report either”.
Lo raised concerns about the “problematic” treatment of another candidate for the job, Rob Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick applied for the job in the first round of recruiting and was deemed suitable, but came in second in the initial pick, Jenny West.
Lo, who was not on the selection panel in the first round, said that Brown told him that instead of re-interviewing Fitzpatrick, his report would be transferred to the second recruitment campaign.
She told the inquiry that she learned that some of it had been “edited to make it more negative”.
“In hindsight I should have asked to see the first panel report and I deeply regret not having done so and I learned a hard lesson here,” she said.
“I incorrectly assumed that the second report reflected Fitzpatrick’s assessment in the first round and yes, I should have asked or verified that.”
The inquiry previously heard that an initial report from the four-person interview panel ranked Cole above Barilaro.
Three of the four panelists said the report was not accurate and that the two candidates were tied.
Lo said she never saw the first report and only received the second on June 15, when she was asked to approve it, six days after Barilaro signed her contract.
“I did not know that an offer had been made when I received this and I did not know that Mr. [had already signed a] contract,” Lo said.
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She said she was happy to sign Barilaro as the highest ranked candidate at the time.
“I am now aware of things that I didn’t know at the time, and if I was aware of those things at the time, there may have been a different conversation between the panelists,” she said.
Kylie Bell, a senior investment NSW official who was also on the recruitment panel, defended the decision to hire Barilaro in the inquiry on Friday.
“He knows the business, he knows the industry groups,” she said. “If he was in New York for us, he could pick up the phone and talk to business leaders and make things happen.”
Barilaro stepped down from office two weeks after the announcement in June, saying it had become unsustainable and a “distraction” due to media attention. He said he “always maintained that I followed the process.”