Transport Minister Jo Haylen’s chief of staff has suddenly quit, after a trove of emails from a department liaison he had seconded into her office were released, suggesting he broke rules around political impartiality.

A spokesman from Ms Haylen’s office played down Scott Gartrell’s resignation, which he said was unprompted by the minister.

“He (Mr Gartrell) was always going to go by the end of the year, after setting up the office,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, Ms Haylen was investigating whether former department liaison officer (DLO) Kieren Ash, seconded from Transport for NSW (TfNSW) by Mr Gartrell, had engaged in political work while working in her office.

Under strict guidelines DLOs must not be involved in the party’s political activities or political advocacy.

Mr Ash previously stood as a Labor candidate in the state seat of Pittwater, and was involved in Labor’s ultimately unsuccessful state election fight to win the Inner West seat of Balmain.

A series of emails from Mr Ash due to be released under parliamentary order showed him agreeing to help organise a barbecue for Ms Haylen’s supporters and making suggestions for how Ms Haylen could respond to opposition questions about transport in Parliament.

Ms Haylen said her office had requested Transport for NSW Secretary Josh Murray to

investigate whether “some actions conducted by a DLO in the Minister’s Office were in line with their employment obligations”.

“It is clear that the practice of requesting Departmental Liaison Officers from TfNSW, while not against the rules, has created questions around the role of DLO’s and their relationship with the Ministerial Office,” she said.

Deputy leader of the opposition Natalie Ward called on the government to refer the matter to the Independent Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo, and called on the minister to resign.

Earlier this year Ms Haylen faced scrutiny over hand-picking Labor-aligned former construction executive Josh Murray as the Secretary of TfNSW, however she did not appear at an inquiry into the appointment.

The Opposition is expected to use Ms Haylen’s appearance before budget estimates on Tuesday to further interrogate the scandal.

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