The most senior member of Colin Barnett's staff was at the Subiaco Hotel on the night that false text messages about Mark McGowan were sent to reporters by a Government adviser.
During a heated press conference yesterday, the Premier confirmed for the first time that his $345,000-a-year chief of staff Brian Pontifex was at the hotel on January 16, when the media was incorrectly tipped off that Mr McGowan was drinking at the Subiaco pub with "young Labor types".
But Mr Barnett denied it was Mr Pontifex who suggested to media adviser James Larsson that he should let reporters know where the soon-to-be opposition leader was.Mr Barnett sacked Mr Larsson last week over a separate issue on the same day as the hotel incident.
The 28-year-old emailed a Google image of Mr McGowan's house to reporters, which the Premier said "crossed the line"; and breached the Labor MP's privacy.
The Premier has continued to describe what occurred at the Subiaco Hotel as "trivial" and that it played no role in his decision to sack Mr Larsson."Brian Pontifex was at the pub," Mr Barnett said.
"There's no secret about that. He was there - not with other staff members from my office - he was there with a couple of private friends.
The West Australian has been told by a senior Government source that Mr Pontifex had a discussion with Mr Larsson, who then sent a text about the sighting of Mr McGowan to several reporters."No one directed anyone," Mr Barnett said.
"Obviously, people saw someone and assumed that it was Mark McGowan. It wasn't Mark McGowan. I accept that. Everyone accepts that, but where's the issue? Big deal."
In fact, Mr McGowan was at home in Rockingham giving his children their dinner and became agitated when several reporters began texting and calling him to question his whereabouts.
When Mr Larsson was told this by one reporter, he replied that the Labor MP was "feeding you lies".
On Tuesday, Labor shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt wrote to the Public Sector Commissioner Mal Wauchope asking him to investigate the text messaging incident and the events leading up to Mr Larsson's sacking.
Mr McGowan spoke to Mr Wauchope yesterday concerned that the Premier had already ruled out an inquiry."He advised me that he is independent," Mr McGowan said.
"All I'd say to the Premier is, you should refer these matters to an inquiry, you should get to the bottom of what's gone on."Mr Barnett said he would never direct Mr Wauchope not to hold an inquiry if he felt that one was warranted.
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