NSW Trade Minister Stuart Ayres will step down from the position and the deputy leadership of the state Liberal Party, Premier Dominic Perrottet says, following a review into Ayres’ involvement in the controversial appointment of former parliamentary colleague John Barilaro to a high-paying trade position in the United States.
Ayres’ intention to resign follows the release of a draft report compiled by former NSW public service commissioner Graeme Head, who was assigned by Perrottet in late June to conduct an independent inquiry into the trade position fiasco.
“Late last night Minister Stuart Ayres informed me he would resign from his ministerial positions and as deputy leader of the NSW parliamentary Liberal Party,” Perrottet told reporters in Sydney Wednesday morning.
The draft Head review “raised a concern” over whether Ayres had complied with the ministerial code of conduct, Perrottet said.
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“The issues in the review go directly to the engagement of Mr Ayres with a department secretary in respect to the recruitment process.”
“When I put these matters to Mr Ayres, he offered his resignation from the ministry and as deputy leader Parliamentary Liberal Party,” the Premier added.
“An investigation will now be undertaken to determine if Mr Ayres has breached the ministerial code of conduct, I have asked [Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary] Mr Coutts Trotter to ensure this is carried out in an appropriate manner.”
Ayres denied any wrongdoing, Perrottet stressed.
But the Premier added: “The questions that have arisen that come through the report make it very clear in my view and in Mr Ayers’s view that there [is a] potential breach of the ministerial code and in those circumstances, this is the appropriate course of action to take.”
Ayres’ responsibilities as Minister for Enterprise, Investment, and Trade, Minister for Tourism and Sport, and Minister for Western Sydney will be reassigned, Perrottet said.
It is Ayres’ intention to remain in Parliament as the Member for Penrith, he added.
After Perrottet’s address, Ayres posted his own response on Twitter.
“In my view, no such breach has occurred,” he said.
“However, I agree that it is important this matter be investigated appropriately and support the Premier’s decision to do so.”
The resignation is the latest development in the tumultuous trade commissioner to the Americas saga.
The role was established during Barilaro’s tenure as NSW trade minister, and reportedly offered the successful applicant an annual salary of $500,000, plus expenses.
The position made headlines when Barilaro was announced as the successful candidate — and drew further attention when a separate parliamentary enquiry into the matter heard from former public servant Jenny West, who alleged the role was assigned to her but then rescinded.
West alleged being told the role would be a “present for someone”, a claim rejected by a lawyer representing the state government.
Barilaro later withdrew from the role, citing media attention as a deciding factor.