texts reveal Amy Brown’s reaction to the launch of the John Barilaro inquiry

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The independent inquiry launched by New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet to investigate the appointment of John Barilaro to a lucrative trading job in New York does not have the power to investigate the actions of government ministers, new documents show.

The latest documents released to Parliament on Wednesday also reveal Investment NSW leader Amy Brown responded to news an Upper House inquiry had been launched into Barilaro’s appointment in June by writing: “this is not good”.

The backlash to the trade appointment in New York became a major distraction for the Perrottet government after it was announced in late June.

Related: Dominic Perrottet says he should have told John Barilaro not to apply for a job in New York

While the State Upper House launched an inquiry, Perrottet commissioned another independent review by former Public Service Commissioner Graeme Head.

Head’s findings are yet to be finalised, but Stuart Ayres resigned last week as deputy leader of the Liberal Party and from the cabinet amid concerns he may have breached the ministerial code of conduct in his interactions with Brown about the appointment. Ayres has denied breaking the code.

At the time, Perrottet said Ayres resigned after being shown draft extracts from Head’s report that were “beyond the mandate”.

Documents tabled in Parliament now confirm that the former Public Service Commissioner does not have the power to investigate ministerial actions.

The chief was appointed to lead the investigation under a section of the Public Service Act, which allows him to use coercive powers to conduct investigations into public officials or contractors.

Related: Dominic Perrottet’s chief of staff gave a “strong opinion” on pay for the London trading role, the inquiry was told

Perrottet has repeatedly said he is waiting for the findings of the Head Review – originally due on July 15 and then August 5 – before giving a formal response to the saga.

But emails released to parliament make it clear Head is unable to investigate the actions of ministers, and while Perrottet announced on Tuesday that senior silk Bruce McClintock SC has been appointed to lead a separate review into Ayres, which will focus on his actions alone.

Following a request from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Department of Premier and Cabinet in July for “background information” on the leadership inquiry to be given to the media, agency staff had debated whether to include information about what he was not authorized to do.

“Is there some kind of word we can add to the background that describes what the inquiry is not – ie that it does not have the power to investigate ministerial conduct?” wrote an employee.

A colleague replied that the statement could “underline that the inquiry can only investigate matters relating to the administration of a state agency”.

The documents also show that senior public servants were concerned about the separate Upper House inquiry into the post.

On June 20, Brown sent a text to the Department of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State, Michael Coutts-Trotter, after the probe was launched in late June with a link to a media article about the investigation.

“This is not good,” she wrote.

Coutts-Trotter replied: “No, but entirely predictable”.

The texts show that Brown was asked to “talk it through” with Coutts-Trotter. On hiring Barilaro, she wrote: “technically it was my decision”.

Another earlier exchange between the pair shows Perrottet and the deputy premier, Paul Toole, were said to be “comfortable” with the decision to give Barilaro the job.

Related: ‘Shitshow’ over John Barilaro’s NYC appointment continues to engulf the NSW government

“FYI – I have been told that the Premier and DP are comfortable with the appointment of Barilaro as [senior trade commissioner] to America, and asked to move forward with formalizing the arrangements,” Brown wrote in a May 6 message to Coutts-Trotter.

“Right,” he replied.

It comes as the House of Lords committee investigating the appointment released a report on Wednesday showing the chief commissioner of the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption had said it was “assessing” some of the evidence heard by the inquiry.

The report said Peter Hall QC had written to the committee and told the watchdog was “assessing the information” given to it after Jenny West, the woman first offered the job, gave evidence that Brown had told her the job would be a “gift” for some”. Brown has denied saying that.

The report also said the committee has referred a leak of secret evidence, given to the inquiry by Brown, to Parliament’s Privileges Committee.

The leak, which was related to West, was described in the report as “undoubtedly a contempt of parliament”.

The investigation in the upper house will resume on Friday, when Barilaro will testify for the second time.

Perrottet’s office has been contacted for comment.

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