The death of Wollongong toddler Zoran Ivanovski has been drawn into the latest crisis involving Family Service Minister Pru Goward, after it emerged she had apparently misled Parliament over the numbers of child caseworkers.
In the days after his death, Family and Community Services Minister Ms Goward rejected claims of any staff shortages and accused the public service union of running a "morally bankrupt" campaign.
But a series of high-level government emails reveal the number of child protection workers in Wollongong fell by 25 per cent last year.
After the toddler died in Wollongong, 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 two-year-old Zoran, who died from head injuries in August last year. His mother, Tamie Leanne Apps, has been charged with his murder.
In response to questions about a lack of resources, Ms Goward told NSW Parliament on August 15 last year "the truth is that not a single caseworker position has been cut in Wollongong".
The minister said the staff vacancy rate at the Wollongong office had been reduced by one-third.
In July this year, she maintained her position on the Wollongong office, saying vacancy rates were at their lowest level in many years. Her office said "the government has not cut frontline 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 38 in June last year and to 32 in December - a total decrease of 11. The emails suggest the number of positions would drop further to 28 as of 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 this year says "you will note there is a downward trend" in the Wollongong caseworker numbers.
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.
"Minister Goward has cut caseworkers and cut funding from child protection services in this state with complete disregard for the consequences."
The NSW opposition yesterday asked Ms Goward why she had repeatedly claimed there were 2068 budgeted caseworkers in NSW when internal documents reveal this number had 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 from Treasury to fully fund the 2068 caseworker positions the government has repeatedly claimed were fully funded.
The ministerial notes, tabled in a NSW Upper House call for papers, say the 2068 positions have "never been filled".
Ms Goward told Parliament yesterday "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 on the ground".
A spokesman for Ms Goward said last year's audited figures showed caseworker vacancies were the lowest in many years at 7 per cent.
"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 spokesman said.
"When it comes to operational matters such as human resources, the minister relies on advice provided by her department."
Yesterday, the new select committee on ministerial propriety announced its first hearing would be held on Monday October 14.
Committee chair Robert Borsak said the first hearing would focus on Ms Goward's statements to the Parliament.
The closing date for submissions, which have been invited from all interested parties, is on October 8.
The purpose of the hearing is to examine ministerial responsibility to Parliament.