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NSW bureaucrat’s future in the spotlight

Trade Minister Alister Henskens has refused to vouch for his department secretary Amy Brown, days after she relinquished her CEO role at Investment NSW and went on leave.

Ms Brown was named in an independent review into the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro to a $500,000-a-year, taxpayer funded US trade job, released earlier in August.

The review, conducted by former NSW public services commissioner Graeme Head, found Ms Brown had been indirectly influenced by then-trade minister Stuart Ayres’ preference for who should get the New York-based role.

In a testy exchange with One Nation MP Mark Latham, the minister refused to declare his confidence in Ms Brown.

“I’m not responsible for the employment functions of Amy Brown,” Mr Henskens said during a parliamentary hearing on Thursday.

The minister said Ms Brown reported directly to Department of Premier and Cabinet Secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter and any employment decisions about her future would be taken by him.

Mr Latham asked if the minister planned to talk with “Mr Coutts-Trotter about removing Ms Brown because of … incompetence in the Barilaro matter”.

“That is a matter for others, rather than me,” Mr Henskens replied.

She relinquished her role as CEO of Investment NSW on August 11, but remains secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade.

Ms Brown was due to appear at Thursday’s hearing but has taken four weeks’ leave

Labor MP Courtney Houssos also quizzed the minister on Ms Brown’s tenure.

“Will you support Ms Amy Brown staying on her $600,000 plus a year salary now that she’s no longer the CEO of Investment NSW but also remaining as secretary?” she asked.

Mr Henskens referred back to his previous answers, but Ms Houssos said the “bump” in Ms Brown’s pay was agreed to by Premier Dominic Perrottet.

An agitated Mr Henskens replied.

“I know you have no experience in government and what is the appropriate role of a minister and the public service but I’m telling you for the 20th time that the employment functions legally are not my responsibility.”

Mr Ayres resigned as minister earlier in August after a draft excerpt from the Head review raised questions about whether he breached the ministerial code of conduct with his involvement.

The review found Mr Barilaro’s appointment was not kept at arm’s length from government.

Mr Perrottet said the appointment process was “flawed from the outset”.

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