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Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo has attacked the recruitment process that appointed John Barilaro to a US trade post in blistering evidence in which she says the minister and Investment NSW staff hid information from interviewers.

The senior public servant who signed off on a candidate report for Barilaro, which had been tweaked and had some scores upgraded, says she would never have signed the report had she been fully informed by Investment NSW at the time.

“I have recently become aware, including through evidence given at hearings of this inquiry and through media reports, of various matters relating to this recruitment process,” Lo said in her appearance before an upper house inquiry probing Barilaro’s appointment as a senior trade and investment commissioner to the Americas.

“This includes the degree of ministerial involvement, including input into shortlisting and provision of info and informal reference.

“Had I known on June 15 what I know now, I would not have endorsed the report.

“I should never be used as cover.”

The senior public servant was one of four panellists brought in to interview candidates for the coveted US trade position, which went to Barilaro in May. Barilaro withdrew from the role amid criticism in late June.

Lo said she was not aware of many aspects of the interview process, including the actions of government and Investment NSW staff regarding the hire, including the fact Stuart Ayres, then trade minister, met with candidate Kimberley Cole and that Investment NSW staff had sought informal referees for other candidates.

She said she had serious misgivings about the way a third candidate, Mike Fitzpatrick, had been treated throughout the selection process.

The senior public servant also put on the record that a fourth member of the panel, Warwick Smith, had raised also misgivings about the recruitment process and his sense that he would not have endorsed Barilaro’s candidate report had he been fully informed of all the government and Investment NSW’s actions at the time.

“I was not aware that informal references were sought for any candidate, nor was I that the minister met with Ms Kimberly Cole,” Lo said.

“The other independent panel member, the Honorable Warwick Smith, who has not been called as a witness before this inquiry, would like me to put on the record that had he known then what he knows now, he also would not have endorsed the report .

“In particular, he did not know the minister met with Miss Cole, and he’s concerned about the treatment of the third-ranked candidate.”

More to come.

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