In the hot seat: Pru Goward. Photo: Brockwell Perks
Community Services Minister Pru Goward faces calls to resign after she denied knowing of a critical report into a shortage of caseworkers for at-risk children, despite being at a meeting where the document had been tabled.
As departmental workers went on strike on Tuesday to protest at staff shortages, Ms Goward admitted that on July 8 she was at a meeting where an Ernst & Young report was tabled. It said the department had 300 fewer caseworkers than were budgeted for.
Strike: Caseworkers protest staff shortages outside their Parramatta office. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
It also emerged that her office received copies of the document in emails in June and early July.
Despite having the report, which showed there were 1797 caseworkers in the Family and Community Services department, in late June her office told Fairfax Media ''more than 2000'' were employed. On July 9, a spokesman for Ms Goward again exaggerated the number of caseworkers by about 300 when the Herald revealed three-quarters of children deemed at risk of significant harm would not see a caseworker to undergo safety checks.
On Tuesday Opposition Leader John Robertson accused Ms Goward of misleading Parliament and called on her to resign. ''This is a minister who this afternoon should be tendering her resignation to Premier Barry O'Farrell because it is clear she has misled this Parliament and she is incompetent.
"Minister Goward has misled the Parliament over one of the most critical issues imaginable - the critical shortage of caseworkers protecting the most vulnerable children in NSW.
''The truth is that she was informed and given the report on at least three occasions.''
Protesting caseworkers said they had lost confidence in the minister.
Ms Goward said that while she had not seen the draft Ernst & Young report, she had discussed the issue of accuracy in caseworker numbers with the director-general and ''those problems were highlighted in the Ernst & Young draft report''.
"As I told the House on the 13th August I had had not seen the draft Ernst & Young report until after estimates which remains the best of my recollection. I confirm I did not see the draft report at the July 8th meeting … At no time has Ernst & Young discussed the draft report with me or my office."
The opposition spokeswoman on family and community services Linda Burney said: "The only option now available to the Minister for Family and Community Services is to tender her resignation to the Premier."
In defending Ms Goward, Mr O'Farrell sparked a potential race row by claiming Ms Burney hadn't achieved her career success on merit. Ms Burney was the first Aborigine elected to the NSW Parliament and served as minister for community services in the former Labor government.