Centre of inquiry: Pru Goward. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Embattled Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward has refused to address questions about child protection caseworker numbers, instead turning her attack on the Opposition Leader over his own propriety issues.
The NSW opposition on Tuesday used question time to query why Ms Goward had continued to say there were more than 2000 community service caseworkers in NSW, when her own staff were aware there were about 300 fewer.
''I can't think how many times I have answered exactly that question,'' she replied. ''You can see why this leadership team is in trouble if that's their idea of a good question.''
She said John Robertson was ''on the one hand lecturing the government on ministerial propriety and on the other hand failing to report a $3 million bribe from one of Eddie Obeid's mates''.
Ms Goward is at the centre of a parliamentary inquiry into whether she misled Parliament when she repeatedly claimed there were about 2000 caseworkers and no staff number reductions.
However, the inquiry on Monday heard that department staff had been aware of a decline in numbers as early as January this year.
It also heard that more than $20 million reserved to fund more than 200 child protection caseworker positions was used to subsidise out-of-home care instead.
The upper house committee will meet on Thursday and is expected to discuss whether it will invite Ms Goward to appear.
Committee chairman Robert Borsak, of the Shooters and Fishers Party, said he was disappointed the Premier announced last month that none of his ministers would attend the upper house inquiry.
''We would like to think that the Premier should be making any of his ministers available to talk to us to clarify their position,'' he said. ''If he's confident that they have been across their brief adequately, then he should not have a problem.''
Meanwhile, the department faces further questions about its failure to fill caseworker vacancies so it could pay for the transfer of out-of-home care services to the non-government sector.
Opposition family and community services spokeswoman Linda Burney on Tuesday accused Ms Goward of being aware the subsidisation of out-of-home care from caseworker positions was ''short-sighted and not appropriate''.
On Monday, the Director-General of Family and Community Services, Michael Coutts-Trotter, was asked what happened to the money his department saved when it delivered only 1862 of the 2068 budgeted caseworker positions in 2012-13.
He said the $20 million to $25 million the department saved was spent elsewhere within Community Services, such as on supporting children in out-of-home care, early intervention and statutory child protection.
''But not on caseworkers within those three areas?'' NSW Greens MP John Kaye asked.
''No, and we need to change that,'' Mr Coutts-Trotter said. ''We need to get more caseworkers on the front line.''