NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is under increasing pressure to explain how former Nationals leader John Barilaro was appointed to a lucrative US trade role amid claims the government misled parliament over the issue.
A parliamentary inquiry is examining whether due process was followed in the former deputy premier’s appointment to the $500,000 a year New York-based role.
Ongoing controversy over the propriety of the recruitment process for the plum trade job has overshadowed Mr Perrottet’s 10-day trade mission to Asia, where he is scheduled to meet with officials in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, government documents provided to the upper house inquiry revealed Mr Perrottet as treasurer received a ministerial briefing last year on the chosen candidate for the role.
Mr Barilaro, then-premier Gladys Berejiklian and then-investment minister Mr Ayres were informed by Investment NSW that senior public servant Jenny West was an independent recruitment panel’s preferred candidate, the documents indicate.
However, the high-profile appointment eventually went to Mr Barilaro, who last month relinquished the role saying it had become untenable.
Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey described the new trove of documents as “devastating” for the government, claiming they showed Mr Perrottet and Mr Ayres were both told Ms West was the best person for the job.
Mr Ayres distanced himself from the new documents, saying the ministerial brief was “noted” by him, but was not one that “seeks a decision from me”.
Mr Perrottet said the advice he received from the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade was “there was no suitable candidate” for the role.
Speaking from Seoul, South Korea, he rejected that Mr Ayres should be sacked over the affair, describing him as a “very strong minister in the NSW government”.
The government has previously said a first recruitment process did not identify a suitable candidate, leading to a second recruitment process going ahead.
The release of the files comes after sustained calls for the government to hand over sensitive documents about Mr Barilaro’s appointment.
The NSW upper house has been recalled to sit on Friday in an effort to obtain more documents needed to examine the appointment.
Inquiry chair, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, has invited Mr Barilaro to make a written submission and has indicated he will be called as a witness at a later date.
Mr Barilaro has previously criticised the inquiry for failing to call him, saying the drip feed of public information goes against procedural fairness.