Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown has conceded Trade Minister Stuart Ayres’s input to the appointment of the New York trade posting carried “some weight”.
A parliamentary inquiry into the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro to the lucrative trade role has entered its fourth hearing just hours after Ayres resigned from cabinet.
Brown is facing questions for a second time.
In her opening statement, Brown said: “Any conversations I have with Minister Ayres were, therefore, influential on my decision. But, in my view, it did not amount to undue influence because, at all times, I felt the decision was mine.” , ultimately mine to make.”
Labor’s Daniel Mookhey later asked, “Surely the minister (Ayres) praising John Barilaro to you, after the applications have closed, would you have carried some weight with you?”
Brown also admitted Ayres wasn’t kept at “arms length” from the decision making and regularly sought his opinion.
“Objectively speaking, arm’s length is not a fair characterization of how the process was (done),” she said.
“A lot of it was actually initiated by me, because I felt the need that I had to keep checking, partly because of this gray area that we were in around public service.
“Broadly speaking, I wanted to make sure he (Ayres) was comfortable.”
The inquiry will continue for the remainder of Wednesday.
NSW Trade Minister Stuart Ayres resigns
It comes as Ayres today resigned from cabinet and his role as deputy Liberal leader, Premier Dominic Perrottet announced.
Ayres has faced intense scrutiny for any role he had in former deputy premier John Barilaro’s application for a high-profile trade envoy role to New York, and whether it was consistent with ministerial standards.
Ayres has consistently denied he breached any ministerial standards.
While he will remain an MP for Penrith, Ayres has stepped down as deputy leader of the NSW Liberals, as well as his ministerial roles (his portfolios included Enterprise, Investment and Trade; Tourism and Sport; and Western Sydney).
Perrottet said Ayres’ ministerial roles will be reassigned and announced in “due course.”
The premier said the independent review of Barilaro’s appointment had raised questions about Ayres’ contact with the recruitment process for the New York trade job.
“The draft review that I have seen, relating to those matters with respect to Mr Ayres, raises questions,” he said.
“It raises questions in respect to the ministerial code of conduct. I am the custodian as premier of the ministerial code of conduct.”
“The issues in the review go directly to the engagement of Mr Ayres with a department secretary in respect to the recruitment process,” Perrottet said.
An investigation will now take place into whether Ayres breached the ministerial code of conduct. The premier said he would take action when that investigation is completed.
Ayres had been under fire for his handling of the former deputy premier’s appointment, following accusations he used discussions with NSW CEO Any Brown to promote Barilaro’s standing as a candidate.
He rejected that accusation, saying he was only receiving updates of the process.
When asked directly by reporters whether Ayres had “lied” or “misled” him, Perrottet said he did not believe that was the case.
“What is important is, the information that comes to light is acted on, and that’s what I have done,” he said.
“I will make this very clear, Mr Ayers denies any wrongdoing at all. He denies any wrongdoing,” Perrottet said.
Perrottet stressed that Ayres had denied any wrongdoing.
Ayres became the second NSW cabinet minister to stand down this week after Perrottet sacked Fair Trading Minister Eleni Petinos on Sunday after allegations she bullied staff.
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