Stuart Ayres (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)
Stuart Ayres (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Click here to follow live updates on the Stuart Ayres resignation and Amy Brown speaking at the John Barilaro inquiry from 10.30am AEST.

NSW Trade Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres has resigned after Premier Dominic Perrottet received an “excerpt” yesterday of the forthcoming independent report into the John Barilaro scandal that raised questions about the “engagement” between Ayres, his department secretary Amy Brown, and the recruitment process around John Barilaro’s appointment to a lucrative New York trade post.

Since Monday, documents have been publicly available showing that contrary to his claims about having played no part in Barilaro’s appointment, Ayres played a role in shaping the shortlist for the process. Moreover, the recruitment panel report was changed to elevate Barilaro and downgrade a superior candidate.

The report, commissioned by Perrottet and being conducted by former senior public servant Graeme Head, is not yet complete, but Perrottet said today he had received an excerpt from the draft report that raised questions about a potential breach of the ministerial code of conduct. Perrottet insists Ayres maintains he has done nothing wrong.

The departure of Ayres comes ahead of further hearings by the NSW Legislative Council inquiry this morning where Brown is set to be grilled about why the recruitment panel report was changed and what role Ayres played in the process, given documents produced on Monday showed Ayres was set to decide between two final candidates.

It’s been clear since at least last week that Ayres’ claim that the Barilaro appointment was conducted entirely at arm’s length from the government was contradicted by documents steadily emerging from the Legislative Council inquiry. The result has been serious damage to the government as Ayres resisted pressure to resign and insisted all was well, to the growing and increasingly open incredulity of his colleagues.

Perrottet now says there is evidence that Ayres did influence the Barilaro recruitment, while Ayres denies doing anything wrong. His colleagues will be wondering why Ayres’ memory is so at odds with the documents that clearly lay out his role.

The role of Brown remains unclear and continues to be the subject of the Head inquiry as well as today’s inquiry hearing.