About 55 million light years from Earth, a colossal black hole about 1,000 times larger than the sun known as M87 is slowly consuming the universe.
In New South Wales, there is John Barilaro, whose appointment to a New York trade role appears to be getting the job done much faster.
That, at least, must be how it feels for the state government, which is in the orbit of something it can no longer contain nor escape.
Or, to use Barilaro’s more succinct phrasing, it’s a “shitshow”.
Barilaro’s appearance before a parliamentary inquiry on Monday to answer questions about his appointment to the trade gig was always going to generate headlines.
His evidence, which will be followed up by an encore on Friday, was compelling: not only did the former deputy premier raise his interest in the role with the now former trade minister Stuart Ayres last year, he also apparently ran it past the premier, Dominic Perrottet, and the treasurer, Matt Kean.
None of them, he told the inquiry, raised any concerns. Perrottet told him to “go for it”. Kean was “supportive”.
During his evidence, Barilaro described himself as the “unluckiest” man in state politics, pointing to the “trauma” of the saga surrounding his appointment and describing the past seven weeks as his own “personal hell”.
But based on the month this government has had, plenty would argue hell is more of a collective experience.
On Tuesday the Liberal party will meet to elect a new deputy leader after Ayres resigned.
The meeting is likely to be a coronation for Kean, but not before a nasty public fight prompted by the transport minister David Elliott’s determination to block him from winning the job.
After insisting he would run for the role, Elliott went on Sydney radio station 2GB on Monday to announce he would withdraw from the contest.
“Yes, I’m disappointed. Yes, I’ve had to eat humble pie. Yes, I’ve had to say to the premier, ‘Yep, you’re the boss’,” Elliott said.
All while the revelations continue to chug along.
After Barilaro’s evidence, the head of Investment NSW, Amy Brown, made her third appearance before the committee.
Brown dropped a laundry list of claims about roles in London, India and Singapore, while pulling Perrottet’s chief of staff, Bran Black, into the tumult with the claim that he had told her an $800,000 salary package for London commissioner Stephen Cartwright was “worth it”.
Black strongly rejected her version of events – saying he had made clear that $800,000 was unreasonable – but Brown’s evidence about Cartwright raised new questions about how exactly he had landed in the role.
Last week Brown told the committee the former chief executive of the NSW Business Chamber had been “added to the process late” for the London position after another preferred candidate had already been identified.
He seemed to believe he had an “elevated status”, she said, and threatened to “go to” Perrottet during a dispute over his contract.
Cartwright’s posting had already been approved by the time Brown took over contract negotiations last year, and on Monday she said she had never seen a panel report from interviews for the role.
When she took over, Brown said Cartwright seemed to have an “unrealistic” expectation of his salary, amounting to about $800,000, or roughly double what the premier earns. Again, she had no insight into how that figure appeared to have been floated.
Amid multiple disagreements over the salary package, Brown said she felt “threatened” by his insistence that he would take the matter above her head to ministers – including to Perrottet.
On one occasion, she said, he did, sending Ayres a message on WhatsApp to complain.
The minister, she said, merely forwarded the message to her, but she labelled it “highly inappropriate”.
As the circus rolls on, the sheer size and scope of the calamity surrounding these posts now appears to now be spinning off in unpredictable directions.
Barilaro revealed during the hearing that he had called Brown, to provide a reference for a department job for his then staffer, Jennifer Lugsdin, sometime before to August last year.
Lugsdin subsequently became his partner, although he insisted during the hearing that he was not in a relationship with her at the time.
Then, during her own appearance before the committee, Brown said she had later made inquiries about whether Lugsdin had declared any conflict of interest when reports of the relationship began to surface in the media in December.
While it was unclear whether she did, Labor’s shadow treasurer Daniel Mookhey said it was relevant to the committee’s investigation because a series of emails between officials showed Lugsdin might have been aware the New York job was in the offing before it was publicly advertised in December.
Labor has warned it will revisit the subject when Barilaro appears before the inquiry again at the end of the week.