Transport Minister Jo Haylen Faces Scrutiny Over Employee’s Conduct

Transport Minister Jo Haylen
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Premier Chris Minns Supports Ministers Amid Employment Scandal

Premier Chris Minns expressed his confidence in all his ministers on Saturday, even as Transport Minister Jo Haylen faced an employment scandal involving a junior public servant engaging in political work within her office, a practice prohibited for such employees.

Resignation of Chief of Staff Over Unveiled Documents

Scott Gartrell, Haylen’s chief of staff, abruptly resigned on Friday after documents were tabled in parliament, revealing that Kieren Ash, an employee of Transport for NSW, had been involved in political activities while stationed in Haylen’s office.

Transport Minister’s Response and Pending Questions

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In a statement made before Gartrell’s resignation, Jo Haylen conveyed her request to her department head for an investigation into whether Ash had violated the terms of his employment. Nevertheless, she will face continued pressure to clarify her knowledge of Ash’s political work in her office.

The Role of Kieren Ash as a Department Liaison Officer (DLO)

Kieren Ash was appointed as a department liaison officer (DLO), a role that explicitly forbade engaging in political activities. During his secondment in Haylen’s office, emails surfaced showing that the former Labor campaign manager compiled a list of Coalition policy reversals and organized a barbecue to celebrate Labor’s election victory.

Premier Minns’ Stance on the Matter

When asked if he would continue to support Jo Haylen during the ongoing investigation, Premier Minns stated that he had faith in all of his ministers. He emphasized that appropriate actions had been taken, and an investigation was underway to ensure the government’s effective operation in New South Wales.

Unveiled Documents Exposing Irregular Activities

The documents made public under a parliamentary order on Friday revealed that Kieren Ash had been involved in activities that were beyond the scope of his role. This included corresponding with lobbyists regarding the launch of an e-scooter trial and drafting responses for Haylen regarding opposition queries in parliament.

Kieren Ash’s Involvement and Political Leanings

In emails, Kieren Ash referred to government MPs as “our Labor colleagues” and agreed to assist in arranging a barbecue to commemorate 100 days of the Minns government. These revelations raise questions about whether others outside Haylen’s office were aware of his political activities, as one email indicated Ash was listed as the caucus contact for Labor MPs.

Chief of Staff’s Role in Secondment

Scott Gartrell facilitated Kieren Ash’s secondment to Haylen’s office shortly after the junior bureaucrat managed Labor’s unsuccessful state election campaign in the inner west seat of Balmain. The documents from Friday revealed that, in his capacity as Haylen’s chief of staff, Gartrell declared that Ash would not be involved in any political work and would be excluded from political discussions.

Concerns Raised About Kieren Ash’s Role

Earlier documents showed that Howard Collins, then-acting transport secretary, expressed concerns about the extent of Ash’s role when Gartrell requested an extension of his secondment from three to twelve months.

Ministerial Office Expectations

In a statement, the premier’s office emphasized that ministerial offices were expected to adhere to their obligations under the DLO guidelines. This includes the expectation that DLOs remain politically neutral and impartial. DLOs are meant to advise ministerial offices on government operations and serve as a link between offices and departments.

Resignation Amid Criticism for Appointment

The resignation came after Jo Haylen faced heavy criticism for the appointment of Transport Secretary Josh Murray, who also has strong ties to the Labor party.

Haylen’s Response to Allegations

When asked if she was aware of Kieren Ash’s political activities during his secondment in her office, Haylen referred The Sun-Herald to her initial statement. In this statement, she indicated that, upon learning of the released documents, she had written to Murray requesting an investigation.

Concerns About Staffing Arrangements

In April, NSW Treasury executive director Sally-Anne Lyster conveyed colleagues’ concerns about a “blurring of the line” in staffing arrangements. The emails did not specify which ministers made these staffing requests.

Confidence in Office’s Staffing Arrangements

Minister for Women Jodie Harrison expressed her absolute confidence in her office’s staffing arrangements during a conversation with reporters on Saturday. She believed that Jo Haylen had taken appropriate action by initiating an investigation into Kieren Ash’s secondment.

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