Barry O'Farrell has been called on to apologise for a perceived racial slur against the Labor frontbencher Linda Burney after he declared she hadn't achieved her career success on merit.
Ms Burney, the first Aborigine elected to the NSW parliament and a former national ALP president, served as minister for community services in the former Labor government and is deputy leader of the opposition.
During a heated exchange in question time on Tuesday over whether the current community services minister, Pru Goward, had misled parliament over caseworker numbers, Ms Burney said Ms Goward had ''lost the confidence of every caseworker in this state''.
The Premier responded that Ms Goward ''has achieved every position in her life on merit'', before turning to Ms Burney and declaring: ''You can't say that.''
The comment was met with laughter from the government backbench.
Opposition leader John Robertson said Mr O'Farrell to apologise for the comments ''which have no place in Australia''.
''Ms Burney is unequalled in merit and achievement,'' he said in a statement. ''In addition to being the first indigenous person elected to the state's Parliament and first indigenous minister, Ms Burney is the chairperson of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council, has spoken at the United Nations on three separate occasions and is a former President of the Australian Labor Party.''
''It would be inappropriate for any member of the community to make those sorts of comments, let alone the Premier of NSW''.
Mr O'Farrell has a history of taunting Ms Burney in parliament. He once joked that she could play ''hooker'' in a rugby league team and accused her of ''casting her spells''.
At a media conference shortly after question time, Ms Burney said she had ''come to expect those sorts of insults from Premier O'Farrell''.
''It's not the first time he's made those sort of imputations about me and my capacity,'' she said.
''I have won every position I've ever had based on my capacity and my merit. The Premier continues to make a fool of himself when he says those sorts of things.''
Asked if she believed the comment was racially motivated, Ms Burney said she ''can't prove that. All I can say he's made imputations about my reputation, my capacity ... and he needs to be able to back those up.''
Ms Burney, the member for Canterbury, is a former school teacher who holds an honorary doctorate in education from Charles Sturt University.
She has served on the boards of SBS, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and the NSW Board of Studies.
Mr O'Farrell's office has been approached for comment.