'I have to go': Pru Goward hangs up on in­ter­view over se­cret re­port

The Guardian Australia - - News - Anne Davies

NSW min­is­ter for fam­ily ser­vices Pru Goward blamed the premier’s de­part­ment for the de­ci­sion to with­hold a damn­ing re­port into NSW’s out-of-home care sys­tem .

Goward ap­peared on ABC Can­berra ra­dio on Wed­nes­day morn­ing and when the ques­tion­ing turned from lo­cal is­sues to the Tune re­port she ap­peared to end the in­ter­view abruptly with: “I have to go.”

A spokesman said the ABC was aware Goward had limited time avail­able and had now agreed to an on-air apol­ogy, af­ter broad­cast­ing her hang-up and then tweet­ing about it. The ABC said they ac­knowl­edged she did not leave the in­ter­view be­cause of the ques­tion­ing.

The Tune re­port into the NSW child pro­tec­tion sys­tem, which was de­liv­ered to the cab­i­net in 2016, was with­held from the pub­lic for two years.

It was re­leased this week, af­ter the Up­per House of the NSW par­lia­ment or­dered the re­lease. The move was sup­ported by a mav­er­ick Lib­eral Matthew Ma­son-Cox, who crossed the floor to sup­port the mi­nor par­ties and La­bor.

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Asked why it had been kept se­cret, Goward said: “It was a de­ci­sion made by a pre­vi­ous min­is­ter, and of course it was writ­ten for the cab­i­net.”

“The premier’s de­part­ment par­tic­u­larly gave very strong ad­vice that we need to pre­serve the rights of the cab­i­net to have con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to it and for it to re­main con­fi­den­tial,” she said.

The re­port, by the for­mer se­nior pub­lic ser­vant David Tune, paints a damn­ing pic­ture of out-of home care in NSW, find­ing the govern­ment spent $1.86bn on vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies in 2015-16 but spend­ing was “cri­sisori­ented” and had “evolved in an ad hoc way”.

Goward said she was “per­fectly com­fort­able” with the Tune re­port be­ing re­leased.

“We have done won­der­ful things in child pro­tec­tion as a re­sult of that re­port and I think the chal­lenge is to find ar­eas where we have failed to act.”

The min­is­ter, who is also the mem­ber for Goul­burn, had been asked to ap­pear on the pro­gram to dis­cuss the Mur­rum­bat­e­man school. The in­ter­view ran for 13 min­utes and af­ter deal­ing with the school is­sue, veered onto the Tune re­port.

Tune said in the re­port there was “sig­nif­i­cant un­met de­mand” and in­ef­fi­ciency, with only one in three re­ports of chil­dren at risk of sig­nif­i­cant harm be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by a fam­ily and com­mu­nity ser­vices (Facs) worker.

The re­port said the cost of pro­vid­ing out-of-home care – mainly foster home place­ments – had risen sharply since the govern­ment be­gan trans­fer­ring re­spon­si­bil­ity to non­govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions in 2012.

“The av­er­age unit cost of a child in care of an NGO is $41,000 ... while a child in [Facs] care is $27,000,” Tune said.

Al­most 60% of chil­dren were now in the care of NGOs and they were stay­ing there longer be­cause the bulk of fund­ing was spent on out-of-home care “in­stead of ad­dress­ing fam­ily needs ear­lier”, the re­port found.

Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in out-of-home care.

In a state­ment re­spond­ing to the re­lease of the re­port, Goward said the govern­ment had com­mit­ted $190m over four years from 2016-17 as an im­me­di­ate re­sponse and that early re­sults were promis­ing, with the num­bers of chil­dren in care fall­ing.

Pho­to­graph: David Moir/AAP

Pru Goward told the ABC that the premier’s de­part­ment ‘gave very strong ad­vice’ that the Tune review re­main con­fi­den­tial, be­fore abruptly ter­mi­nat­ing the in­ter­view.

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