Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fran O’Sullivan has an excellent commentary in today’s New Zealand Herald setting out aspects of the ACC fiasco that the rest of the media has largely ignored.

While journalists and the government’s political opponents focus on shortcomings within ACC – and can claim the scalps of former ACC minister Nick Smith and now ACC chair John Judge as well – it’s clear that a huge part of the problem, right from the outset, has been the determination of claimant Bronwyn Pullar and her advocate, former National Party president Michelle Boag, to exploit their political connections to advance Pullar’s case.

Some of those connections, notably Smith and ACC deputy chair John McCliskie, whom O’Sullivan says unwisely agreed to intervene on Pullar’s behalf, have exacerbated the affair by getting involved when they should have seen the danger signs – Pullar might as well have had a flashing red light surgically implanted in her skull – and stayed well clear. But their bad judgment shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the fact that Pullar and Boag have used their contacts, inside knowledge and media savvy to pull every string they can in order to extract a settlement on the most advantageous terms.

These women take no prisoners. Pullar clearly has a highly developed sense of entitlement and isn’t content to take her place in the ACC queue along with the hoi-polloi. She and Boag have used a repertoire of sophisticated tactics not available to run-of-the-mill ACC claimants, and while they have presumably operated entirely within the law, I don’t buy the spin that Pullar is the helpless victim that she has been made out to be. O’Sullivan’s piece helps put the whole malodorous affair in perspective.

Meanwhile, the old forces of the Left have seized the moment and are seeking to exploit the ACC crisis by pushing for a complete cleanout of the corporation’s board and a return to a more “client-focused” culture.

Lawyer Hazel Armstrong, an accident compensation specialist who previously served on the ACC board herself and has deep connections with the union movement, urged on Morning Report this morning that a revamped board should include union representatives. Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? Unions have wielded powerful influence over the ACC in the past – the Labour government made Ross Wilson chairman after he resigned as head of the Council of Trade Unions – and would like nothing more than to regain control. But unions represent less than 18 percent of the labour force; why should anyone assume that union officials speak for ACC claimants?

Armstrong talks about rebuilding trust, but I suspect that what the unions and union-friendly accident compensation lawyers really want is a return to the soft, benign ACC culture of the past. It may well be that the ACC is in need of a tune-up, and that some of its staff need reminding that claimants shouldn’t be seen as the enemy. But we shouldn’t forget that when National came to power in 2008, ACC was a financial basket-case. As O’Sullivan reminds us in her article this morning, that has since been remedied.

The Left gripes that under the present ACC regime, the bottom line is all that matters. The problem is that under previous administrations, it sometimes didn’t seem to matter at all.

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