Public Servant’s Political Involvement Rocks Jo Haylen’s Staffing Team
In a surprising turn of events, the Chief of Staff to NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen, Scott Gartrell, has resigned amidst allegations that a junior public servant, Kieren Ash, engaged in political activities while on secondment. Ash’s actions included tasks such as compiling a list of Coalition policy reversals and organizing a barbecue to celebrate the Labor Party’s election victory.
Gartrell arranged for Ash to be seconded to Haylen’s office shortly after Ash had overseen Labor’s unsuccessful election campaign in the Balmain electorate during the March state election.
This resignation places considerable pressure on Haylen, who has already faced criticism for her appointment of Transport Secretary Josh Murray, who has strong ties to the Labor Party, as well as the role of public servants in her office with political affiliations.
According to a government source, Gartrell’s resignation was not at Haylen’s request but his own decision.
Documents made public in parliament revealed that Ash was appointed to the position of department liaison officer, a role with strict requirements that prohibit involvement in political activities.
As part of his role, Gartrell had previously declared that Ash would not engage in any political work and would be excluded from political discussions. However, additional documents obtained by the Herald showed that Ash had communicated with the lobbyist firm GRACosway regarding a Beam e-scooter trial, which fell outside the scope of his duties.
In his emails, Ash referred to government MPs as “our Labor colleagues” and agreed to help organize a barbecue in Haylen’s Summer Hill electorate to celebrate 100 days of the Minns government.
Ash had also circulated a “backflips timeline” that listed Coalition MPs responsible for policy reversals during their time in government. He drafted responses for Haylen to use in parliament when responding to questions from Coalition MPs, suggesting that she state, “it’s their mess we inherited and we were elected to fix.”
Ash’s appointment had caught the attention of then-acting transport secretary Howard Collins, who raised concerns about Ash adhering to the boundaries of his role when Gartrell requested an extension of Ash’s secondment from three to 12 months.
Before Gartrell’s resignation, Haylen announced that her office had written to the Secretary of Transport for NSW to request an investigation into whether Ash’s actions aligned with his employer obligations. This practice of requesting Departmental Liaison Officers from Transport for NSW has raised questions regarding the roles of DLOs and their relationships with ministerial offices.
Following these revelations, the opposition called for an investigation into Ash’s actions to be conducted by the Public Service Commissioner, Kathrina Lo, rather than by Josh Murray, the minister’s chosen secretary. Opposition transport spokeswoman Natalie Ward expressed skepticism about Murray’s impartiality in conducting the investigation and questioned the transparency of the process.
The investigation into the allegations surrounding Kieren Ash’s political involvement in Jo Haylen’s office is ongoing, leaving the minister facing increased scrutiny and political challenges.