September 18, 2013
State Political Reporter
In the hot seat: Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
The death of toddler Zoran Ivanovski has been drawn into the latest crisis involving Family Services Minister Pru Goward, after it emerged she has apparently misled Parliament over the number of child caseworkers.
In the days after his death, Ms Goward rejected claims of any staff shortages and accused the public service union of running a ”morally bankrupt” campaign.
But now, a series of high-level government emails reveal the number of child protection workers in Wollongong fell by 25 per cent last year.
Tragic loss: Toddler Zoran Ivanovski died in Wollongong. Photo: RDP
Opposition Leader John Robertson said the minister ”should be sacked today”. ”This is now the third time she has misled the Parliament over the most critical of child protection issues,” he said.
After Zoran died from head injuries last August, child protection workers walked off the job in protest against staff shortages they said had prevented them from seeing him. They had received a number of reports about the two-year-old. His mother, Tamie Leanne Apps, has been charged with his murder.
In response to questions about a lack of resources, Ms Goward told Parliament on August 15 last year ”the truth is that not a single caseworker position has been cut in Wollongong”.
She said the staff vacancy rate at the Wollongong office had been reduced by one third.
In July this year, she maintained her position, saying Wollongong vacancy rates were at their lowest level in years. Her office told Fairfax Media ”the government has not cut front-line child protection caseworker positions”.
However, emails between senior managers from the Department of Family and Community Services and the Minister’s office show the number of full-time caseworkers in Wollongong fell from 44 in June 2011 to 39 in June last year and to 33 in December. The emails suggest the number of positions would drop to 29 in January this year.
An email from the Department of Family Services executive Kate Gray to Ms Goward’s chief of staff William Crook on February 25 says ”you will note there is a downward trend” in the Wollongong numbers.
The NSW Opposition questioned Ms Goward about why she has repeatedly claimed there are 2068 budgeted caseworkers when internal documents reveal this number has never been filled.
Minutes from ministerial meetings on June 11 and July 8 show the Department of Family and Community Services was asked to prepare a cabinet minute seeking additional funding to fully fund 2068 caseworker positions.
The ministerial notes tabled in a NSW Upper House call for papers say the 2068 positions have ”never been filled”.
Ms Goward told Parliament on Tuesday ”caseworker retention is a matter for the department. And the government has provided funding for 2068 caseworkers and that is what we expect to see”.
A spokesman for Ms Goward said: “Advice from the department is that the caseworker headcount at Wollongong increased between 2010 and 2012, and that budgeted positions remained constant during 2011 and 2012 at 37.7 full-time equivalent positions
The Sydney Morning Herald