Dominic Perrottet proposed a new trade role to the minister

In response to a detailed series of questions, the premier’s office yesterday responded: “Whoever the premier considers appointing to his ministry is a matter for the premier alone.”

Elliott and Perrottet have had an at-times strained relationship, while Elliott and Kean have made no secret of their mutual loathing.

Sources with knowledge of the discussion say Perrottet also spoke to Elliott about the role of agent-general in London and described Stephen Cartwright, who holds the position, as “a problem”.

Ayres, who resigned as trade minister on Tuesday after a draft excerpt of an independent probe into the Barilaro appointment raised questions about whether he breached the ministerial code of conduct, also spoke to Elliott about his political plans.

Ayres went to Elliott’s office to discuss whether the minister intended to stay in parliament and also spoke about the agent-general, two with knowledge of the conversion have confirmed.

The Sun-Herald yesterday asked Perrottet’s office whether he discussed the position of agent-general with Elliott, whether he raised any issues with Cartwright with Elliott, whether the premier asked Ayres to speak to Elliott about his plans for staying in parliament and whether the premier asked Ayres to speak to Elliott about the agent-general role. He declined to answer.

The London role is a statutory appointment, meaning it comes under the responsibility of the public service and not ministers.

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The nature of the agent-general discussions is unclear, but the revelation may attract the attention of the parliamentary inquiry investigating Barilaro’s appointment. The London position has already featured in the inquiry after it emerged there had been “protracted” and “difficult” contract negotiations when Cartwright was appointed to the role. Cartwright is a former chief executive of the state’s peak business lobby group Business NSW.

The inquiry is probing the recruitment process that led to Barilaro being awarded the New York job.

He claimed the role after an earlier offer was made to bureaucrat Jenny West and then later rescinded.

Investment NSW boss Amy Brown, who employed Cartwright, told the inquiry that whenever negotiations hit a “particularly difficult” patch, Cartwright would say “Well, I’ll just escalate this to the deputy premier or the premier”. “I got the impression that he [Cartwright] felt he had some sort of elevated status,” Brown said.

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The Barilaro saga has been a rolling crisis for seven weeks but intensified recently when more evidence emerged about Ayres’ apparent influence on the decision-making.

On Friday, NSW public service commissioner Kathrina Lo gave a searing review of the Barilaro recruitment process, saying she would never have signed off on a final selection report if she knew then what she knows now. Lo told the inquiry she has since learned key information that was never disclosed to independent panel members.

In addition to Ayres, Perrottet was also forced to sack fair trade minister Eleni Petinos last week over workplace bullying allegations.

He initially said he was confident that an anonymous complaint made against her had been appropriately dealt with. However, new allegations emerged and Perrottet removed her from the cabinet.

Perrottet yesterday used a meeting of the Liberal Party faithful to support the modernization of the organization following the federal election defeat. In his first state council address as premier,

Perrottet acknowledged the uphill battle ahead for a party “disillusioned” by the horror May poll but insisted the failure presented a chance to reset.

“We cannot be a party that runs on its record, but does not set a vision for the future,” he said. “This may be controversial to say in this room, but I believe we failed to do that at a federal level.”

Perrottet announced candidate preselection for the March state election would open in two weeks, directly calling out the federal preselection debacle and conceding branch members were right to feel they had been stripped of their democratic right. “One of the most important rights of party members is the power to select candidates to represent your values,” he said.

With Lucy Cormack

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