Eleni Petinos, John Barilaro, and the ‘spewdunnit’ Barfgate

So the John Barilaro flying circus — with new special guest Eleni Petinos — has now fully overtaken the NSW government, cementing its brand as the tragi-farce of Australian politics.

Eleni who? Petinos is the minister for small business and fair trading — with responsibility for workplace safety — who it appears bullied and cursed her staff until at least one of them squealed. As of last night, she was pushed out the door, over her denials, marking an end (temporarily, at least) of the rise and rise of the youthful politician from the right flank of the Liberal Party. Her elevation to Dominic Perrottet’s cabinet in December last year had done no end of good for the government’s seriously lacking gender credentials. Now it’s back to six women out of a 26-member cabinet. 

As he cut Petinos loose, Perrottet referred obscurely to “some further matters” concerning Petinos that had been “brought to my attention”. The premier didn’t elaborate. Maybe Crikey can. 

In the NSW government at the moment there’s no show without John. And there are plenty of intertwining moments between the former deputy premier and Petinos, the member for Miranda in Sydney’s southern suburbs. Maybe it’s these that had Perrottet suddenly sitting bolt upright last night. 

Petinos was briefly in the public eye in a made-for-tabloids story in 2017. In what became tagged in the tabloid world as “Barfgate”, it emerged that Petinos had been at least partly responsible for leaving “pools of vomit” in the back of a ministerial car after a night of State of Origin football with John Barilaro. 

“Word was going around Parliament House of a driver fuming over what he had discovered in the car upon starting his shift hours — possible a day — later. ‘The word is one vomited, and that set off the others,’ a source close to the driver said,” The Daily Telegraph reported. 

In what became a “spewdunnit”, Petinos later offered to pay for the clean-up, with Barilaro saying he had “lent” his car to Petinos for the trip home.

The episode was part of a widening friendship between Petinos and the Barilaros. It has since emerged that Barilaro’s daughter, Domenica (also reportedly in the car during Barfgate), was employed as a media adviser to Petinos. At the end of 2020, Petinos used Parliament to publicly thank John Barilaro’s then wife Deanna and daughter Domenica for joining her on a walk for charity.

Petinos also hit the headlines in 2018 after a text exchange showed that Petinos and now NSW Treasurer Matt Kean were apparently well beyond the heavy-petting stage. The texts were released by Kean’s then partner Caitlin Keage who was working at the time in Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministerial office. 

The fusion of the Barilaro and the Petinos sagas is a poetic moment for the Perrottet government, which has now entered the “slipping on your own vomit” stage.

It also demonstrates the great mosh pit of employment opportunities that the NSW government represents for some senior Coalition figures. Daughter of former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, Bridgette, scored a gig as a senior adviser in John Barilaro’s office. Barilaro’s daughter was employed in Eleni Petinos’ office. Unresolved questions remain as to how Barilaro’s media adviser and soon-to-be romantic partner scored a job in Investment NSW and how Barilaro himself landed his dream New York job.

More and more documents are emerging on that episode. But regardless of whatever facts they establish, it appears there is a real problem with so-called arm’s-length recruitment practices in NSW. How else to explain that jobs based on merit — and others — have kept tracking back to Barilaro Inc?