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  • Writer's pictureAidan Edgecomb

New ICAC powers introduced as NSW transport minister remains under pressure

It’s recently been revealed that NSW Transport Secretary Josh Murray made donations to Transport Minister Jo Haylen last September.

NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen remains under pressure after appointing former Labor staffer Josh Murray to the role of Transport for NSW secretary.

A $500 donation from Mr Murray and a $250 donation from his wife made to Haylen before the state election in March were detailed in emails released to parliament. Mr Murray previously served as Chief of Staff to Labor Premier Morris Iemma.

Ms Haylen claims the donations were tickets to a fundraising event held last year, attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Neither donations were disclosed, as they were below the mandatory disclosure threshold of $1,000.

Ms Haylen chose Mr Murray for the nearly $600,000 per year job, and earlier this month told 2GB: “I got my preferred candidate”. This is despite an external recruiter claiming Mr Murray was “under review or not recommended [for the job]” and posed a “significant risk”.

An intervention during the hiring process from Ms Haylen’s chief of staff, Scott Gartrell, was revealed in an email to transport department staff, where he wrote “The short list below is pretty underwhelming!...Josh Murray should be interviewed as well.”

A spokesperson for Ms Haylen claims that she had “no private interest in this matter”, with the minister defending the hiring process in parliament last week, saying that she had “made all the necessary declarations that I am required to make.”

The recruitment process for the role cost the taxpayer $125,000, and Premier Chris Minns, later admitted it was unnecessary, telling 2GB “In retrospect, [the recruitment process] wasn’t required.”

Mr Minns has backed his minister overall, by arguing that the donation did not influence Ms Haylen during the decision making process. This has been echoed by Haylen herself, saying: “That would be absurd, to make a connection between buying a couple of tickets for a fundraiser six months out from an election and a very important senior public service job”.

The appointment was first criticised by deputy NSW Liberal leader Natalie Ward before the donations revelations came out, claiming: “[Murray] has no qualifications administering transport or infrastructure and he clearly has been parachuted into this role”.

Opposition Leader Mark Speakman says Ms Haylen did have a conflict of interest, and that it should have been declared prior to the appointment of Mr Murray. He argues this was because Mr Murray donated to her campaign, had a personal relationship with her, and had a Labor connection.

The news comes just days after Minns’ government granted the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) the power to use recordings obtained illegally as evidence in its proceedings.

This would not affect the operation of the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) in criminal proceedings. The High Court emphasised in Kadir v The Queen (2020) that this law prohibits the use of audio and visual recordings made in “deliberate defiance of the law” as evidence in criminal proceedings.

However, this new power would bring ICAC into line with the powers given to anti-corruption bodies in other states, such as South Australia. Anti-corruption bodies generally have broader powers when it comes to evidence and investigations.

Although former ICAC assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy has called for an independent investigation to take place, but it remains unclear whether Jo Haylen or Josh Murray will be referred to ICAC over this.

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