“He then said, ‘That’s it; that’s the job for when I get out of this place”. I responded to Mr. Barilaro and said, “but John, the general agent role will be filled long before you leave this place”.
Connell claimed that Barilaro then told him: “I don’t want to go to London, f— that, I’m going to New York … I’m going to make them put one in New York, that’s where I ‘ me too [sic].
“The conversation about this then ended,” the statement said. The letter was forwarded to the corruption constable, who is already planning to investigate the circumstances of Barilaro’s appointment.
On Wednesday, Barilaro dismissed Connell’s claims in a statement released shortly after the submission became public.
“The conversation he remembers is fictitious, false and only serves as a reminder of why we had to part ways,” Barilaro said.
“If this investigation is genuine in its intent to understand the process and truth by which I was appointed, then I would surely be called upon to provide that detail immediately.
“The continued drip-feeding of selected information from the investigation into the public domain flies in the face of all procedural fairness.”
Barilaro has since stepped down from the role.
Connell is a long-serving Liberal staffer and former Deputy State Director for the Liberal Party of NSW. He previously worked for former NSW Premier John Fahey and as an energy policy adviser in Treasurer Matt Kean’s office after leaving Barilaro’s office. He is now a private consultant.
In a statement, Perrottet said he had many discussions with Barilaro and Ayres in 2019 regarding the creation of Global NSW.
“At no time during these discussions was there ever any question that the former deputy prime minister wanted to take up a position as a trade commissioner,” he said.
Ayres said Barilaro had not shown any interest in a trade commissioner position at any stage of the development of the overall NSW strategy.
“I reject in the strongest possible terms any suggestion or inference that recruitment for the [state trade and investment commissioner] The Americas role was orchestrated to give the role to Mr. Barilaro,” he said, adding that the suggestion was “incredibly offensive.”
In the three-page statement released by the Inquiry on Wednesday, Connell said his employment with Barilaro was terminated by mutual agreement “due to Mr. Barilaro stopping following my advice and seeking outside counsel.
Connell wrote that he believed in due process of good governance and believed the alleged incident was of interest or value to the parliamentary inquiry.
“I had no involvement, acquaintance or discussion with anyone, in relation to this particular matter, before or before this ‘isolated’ discussion with Mr. Barilaro,” he wrote.
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns said Connell’s statement was troubling as it suggested “the selection process was rigged and there was a month-long cover-up to prevent the people of NSW from ‘have access to real information’.
Opposition Leader in the Upper House, Penny Sharpe, said Barilaro had been given advance notice of the release of the statement and invited him to appear before the public inquiry.
“I think the point we’re also getting to is that it’s clear that Mr. Ayres and Mr. Perrottet are going to have to come before the committee as soon as possible,” she said.
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