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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

Public servant Amy Brown sacked over hiring process that led to John Barilaro’s New York trade role

Amy Brown has been sacked as the head of Investment NSW. She was called to appear three times before an  upper house inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro to a New York trade job.
Amy Brown, the former head of Investment NSW and secretary of the NSW Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade, has been sacked. She was called to appear three times before an inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro to a New York trade job. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The department secretary responsible for handing John Barilaro a lucrative $500,000 New York trade job has been sacked.

After weeks of speculation about Amy Brown’s future amid a long-running controversy over the now-abandoned appointment, the state’s senior public servant Michael Coutts-Trotter confirmed on Monday that Brown’s employment had been terminated.

“It’s a privilege to hold a role as a senior leader in the NSW public service,” he said in a statement.

“With this, rightly, comes a high degree of accountability. I acknowledge that dealing with the events of recent months, and doing so under such intense public scrutiny, has weighed heavily on Ms Brown.”

The decision was widely expected. As the head of Investment NSW, Brown had been responsible for filling the trade roles, which became the focus of intense controversy after the Guardian revealed another candidate had been offered the New York job, only to have that offer rescinded, and Barilaro be ultimately appointed.

Last month, she stood aside as head of Investment NSW to focus on her other role as the secretary of the NSW Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade, however she has now been fired from that position.

A review by the former public service commissioner Graeme Head, released in August, found Brown had not acted “fully in keeping” with the code of ethics governing NSW public servants during the process of hiring Barilaro.

The saga also prompted former deputy Liberal party leader and trade minister Stuart Ayres to quit cabinet over concerns about a series of “interactions” he had with Brown prior to Barilaro’s appointment, including acting as an “informal” reference for the former deputy premier.

Ayres was subsequently cleared of breaching the state’s ministerial code of conduct in a separate review by prominent barrister Bruce McClintock SC.

Earlier this month Coutts-Trotter revealed he was considering firing Brown after forming a “preliminary view” that she had “not satisfactorily performed” her role during the process that led to Barilaro’s appointment to the job.

It was “a question of poor performance and not misconduct”, he told a budget estimates hearing.

In his statement on Monday, Coutts-Trotter said he had made the decision using his powers under section 41 of the state’s Government Sector Employment Act, which allows a senior executive to be terminated “for any or no stated reason and without notice”.

That decision means Brown is also set to receive a compensation payment from the NSW government as a result of the sacking. It’s understood that package will likely amount to the equivalent of 12 months’ salary.

In a lengthy post on LinkedIn on Sunday night, Brown confirmed she had left the role.

“As the CEO and Department Secretary, I have learned that leadership can, at times, be difficult,” she wrote.

“Courageous leadership is not always comfortable. But it is a necessary part of how the public service performs its professional role in support of responsible government.”

The government will be hoping Brown’s departure brings to an end the controversy over the appointment which has raged for months.

Brown was called to appear three times before an ongoing upper house inquiry into the appointment, amid accusations the process was influenced by government MPs.

While Brown had insisted she was the final decision-maker, she also conceded that the appointment had been the subject of significant concern within the government.

Last month she told the inquiry she did not believe Ayres had been at “arm’s length” during the process.

“There were multiple intersection points throughout,” she said at the time.

Barilaro, who withdrew from the role citing the undue media attention, has always maintained he did nothing wrong in applying for, and being awarded, the job.

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