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Labor takes aim at Investment NSW CEO’s decision-making to appoint Barilaro to NY trade job

Labor has taken aim at Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown’s decision in appointing John Barilaro to the New York trade posting and the involvement of then-minister Stuart Ayres in the process.

The fourth hearing of the parliamentary inquiry into the appointment of the former deputy premier to the lucrative trade role occurred just hours after Ayres resigned from cabinet.

Following the hearing, Labor’s Penny Sharpe took aim at Brown’s evidence and questioned how involved Ayres was in the process.

Penny Sharpe (centre) comments on the resignation of Stuart Ayres, at NSW Parliament. Sydney, NSW. 3rd August, 2022. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Penny Sharpe (centre) comments on the resignation of Stuart Ayres, at NSW Parliament. Sydney, NSW. 3rd August, 2022. Photo: Kate Geraghty (Kate Geraghty)

“Every single decision that Amy Brown talked about today was guided by Stuart Ayres,” she said.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns claimed, “the cover up here is probably worse than the crime”.

“They’ve been taking the public for a ride for the last seven weeks,” he added.

Brown concedes Ayres’ input carried ‘some weight’

As Brown fronted questions for a second time, she revealed Ayres’ input into the appointment carried “some weight”.

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 have carried some weight with you?”

Department secretary Amy Brown (right) during the inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas, at NSW Parliament. Sydney, NSW. 2nd August, 2022. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Department secretary Amy Brown (right) during the inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas, at NSW Parliament. Sydney, NSW. 2nd August, 2022. Photo: Kate Geraghty (Kate Geraghty)

Brown also admitted Ayres wasn’t kept at “arm’s length” from the decision making and regularly sought his opinion.

“Objectively speaking, arm’s length is not a fair characterisation 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 grey area that we were in around public service.

“Broadly speaking, I wanted to make sure he (Ayres) was comfortable.”

Ayres resigns, to face conduct investigation

It comes as Ayres today resigned from cabinet and his role as deputy Liberal leader.

Ayres has faced intense scrutiny for any role he had in former deputy premier 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.

Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Tourism and Sport and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres has resigned. (Dominic Lorrimer)

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).

Premier Dominic 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.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced Trade Minister Stuart Ayres has resigned. (Nine)

“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 Brown to promote Barilaro’s standing as a candidate.

He rejected that accusation, saying he was only receiving updates of the process.

Former NSW trade minister Stuart Ayres had been under intense scrutiny over the John Barilaro affair. (9News)

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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