Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
NSW Treasurer Mike Baird has come under fire over potential conflicts of interest in his appointments to state government boards only weeks after Barry O'Farrell sacked former finance minister Greg Pearce from cabinet over the issue.
During angry exchanges with Labor and Greens MPs during a budget estimates hearing on Thursday, Mr Baird was forced to deny any impropriety but repeatedly failed to say whether an independent panel he announced in 2011 was part of the process of making the appointments.
In July last year Mr Baird recommended to cabinet the appointment of one of Australia's wealthiest businessmen, Roger Massy-Greene, as chairman of Networks NSW, which runs the states' electricity distributors.
It has since emerged that Mr Massy-Greene's company Eureka Capital Partners had previously donated $15,000 to Mr Baird's political campaigns before he became Treasurer.
In January last year Mr Baird and Mr Pearce, as shareholding ministers, recommended to cabinet the appointment of Mr Baird's former business colleague Chum Darvall as chairman of the state-owned electricity company TransGrid. During Thursday's hearing Mr Baird confirmed he had worked with Mr Darvall at Deutsche Bank before entering politics, but said it was ''17 years ago''.
In July last year Mr Baird, as shareholding minister, was involved in the appointment of a prominent Liberal party fund-raiser, Nick di Girolamo, to the board of the State Water Corporation.
During the budget estimates hearing Mr Baird said Mr di Girolamo ''may well have'' attended political fund-raising events held for his benefit.
The ministerial code of conduct states a minister ''shall not have any material or undisclosed interest in any decision or action taken in virtue of office''.
It says that ''where in the exercise of office an actual or apparent conflict of interest arises or is likely to arise in a matter, a minister shall forthwith dislose the nature of that conflict to the Premier''.
A spokesman for Premier Barry O'Farrell said Mr Baird ''complied with the ministerial code of conduct''. A spokesman for Mr Baird said ''all appropriate disclosures were made in the cabinet process''.
Under the process, ministers recommend board nominees to cabinet, which decides whether to support the appointment.
In September 2011 Mr Baird announced prospective directors of state-owned corporations would be assessed by an independent panel including the chairman of the Public Service Commission, Peter Shergold, and the director-general of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles.
''What we have done is we have ensured that every appointment is done rigorously,'' Mr Baird said on Thursday.
<a href="/national/fairfax-media-introduces-digital-subscriptions-20130703-2pbti.html"><img src="http://images.smh.com.au/2013/08/15/4664334/digisubs_editorial_pointer_600px_b.jpg" alt="fairfax subscriptions" width="100%" /></a>