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Transport tsar reveals Minns friendship, Labor links

Flavio Brancaleone / Nikki Short/AAP PHOTOS

A controversially appointed NSW transport tsar has described himself as a friend of the state's premier and revealed he went to several Labor fundraisers before the party's election win.

But Josh Murray, a former Labor staffer, rejected any suggestion that he was part of a "conspiracy" to take on the lucrative job, having taken a pay cut from his "highly rewarding" private-sector position for the public role.

When asked about Mr Murray's comments, Premier Chris Minns downplayed the relationship, describing it as "friendly" and saying they had "caught up" about six times over the past decade.

"There would be thousands of people in NSW politics and the public sector ... I'd be in a similar set of circumstances with," Mr Minns said.

The appointment of the former engineering and construction executive to the $588,250-a-year job has been criticised after it was revealed recruiters initially dismissed him as lacking the necessary experience.

Mr Murray used a parliamentary inquiry into his appointment on Thursday to take aim at the same recruiters.

He said they wrongly called him "Josh Gordon", appeared to think he was applying for an anti-corruption role, and were slow to pass on relevant material to the government.

"They made very short judgments based on job descriptions instead of discussions," Mr Murray said.

Describing his political history as "writ clear" on his CV, the former staffer to Labor premier Morris Iemma confirmed he remained a party member until June, but denied ever being "active" in a branch.

As well as dropping $500 into Transport Minister Jo Haylen's election kitty to attend a fundraiser dinner headlined by the prime minister, Mr Murray said he attended two other pre-election Labor fundraisers "while a private citizen".

His wife paid $250 a head for a former premiers' dinner at parliament, and $100 a seat for a trivia night for the premier's Kogarah branch.

The trivia night was partly organised in tribute to Mr Murray's father-in-law, a former Labor transport minister.

Mr Murray did not tell the recruiters about his political donations, which fell below the state's declarable threshold of an annual $1000 per person.

"Those matters were not material," he said.

Mr Murray added he understood his Labor links would dominate the headlines, but he underlined his 15 years at international engineering and construction company Laing O'Rourke and his motivation and passion to serve NSW.

"I made a tough career call based on the opportunity to make a difference," he said.

"(If) I was asked to apply again tomorrow, knowing what I know now, I would still say yes."

Opposition leader Mark Speakman described Mr Murray as a "Labor mate" and accused Mr Minns of obscuring the pair's 20-year friendship.

"A premier who was honest with the people of NSW would have volunteered this information before now," Mr Speakman said.

Deputy public service commissioner Chris Lamb said Mr Murray's donations and party membership weren't disclosed to the selection panel for the secretary role, but that was appropriate so members could give an impartial assessment.

Ms Haylen declined the inquiry's invitation to appear, instead facing a barrage of questions on Thursday from the press.

She trumpeted the skills, experience and intelligence of her new secretary and said reasonable people would think it was "ridiculous" that small donations could influence her decision to appoint Mr Murray to such a critical role.

Mr Murray started two weeks ago. He cannot participate in matters concerning his former employer - a major government contractor - until August 2024.