Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: People should learn to mind own business

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Nick Smith speaks to the media after announcing his decision to resign. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nick Smith speaks to the media after announcing his decision to resign. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The legs-eleven story this week has been ACC's carelessness in emailing 6752 clients' private details to National Party stalwart (some might say nightmare) Bronwyn Pullar. More than 200 of these cases are what is known as sensitive claims, meaning they concern people who have been sexually abused.

Pullar had a history with ACC. Things had reached a point, apparently, where she needed a meeting with senior managers, so former National Party president and friend Michelle Boag sat in as Pullar's "support person". We still don't know for sure who said what to whom, but apparently at that meeting ACC was told about this security breach, alleged threats were made of making that breach public, the words "going forward" were mentioned, and a two-year benefit was discussed.

Now the matter is in the hands of the police, and Privacy Commissioner Marie Schroff has launched an inquiry into the leak.

Furthermore, two dyed-in-the-wool National Party women, not the Opposition, have forced Nick Smith to resign from Cabinet.

But back up the truck. What business was it of Pullar's when she first received files which didn't concern her? She obviously read them, because we were told she recognised a few of the sexual abuse victims as well-known New Zealanders.

At worst, this is a sorry saga of people who have possibly crossed the line of the law, or the principles of the Privacy Act, because they couldn't mind their own business. Why didn't Pullar just give the files back to ACC?

And if, as Boag now claims, the meeting was to assist ACC with security problems, why not go to the Privacy Commissioner, who is empowered to do just that, without taking action against ACC, without going public, without upsetting 6752 ACC clients? Somehow, this excuse from the PR maven doesn't wash.

Mary Wilson on Checkpoint interviewed an ACC specialist claimant barrister, unsurprised by the leak, who said he's been receiving wrong files "regularly" for six years, and immediately sends them back.

The Privacy Act was put in place for good reason - to protect us from Big Brother sharing information. To make ACC claims, under the Privacy Act clients almost have to sign their lives away, allowing the agency to collect personal information from their family doctor and other sources. So this careless leak was a massive breach of trust by ACC.

But in my opinion, Pullar and, by association, Michelle Boag, have compounded that breach by their actions.

Once it was considered rude to read other people's letters or diaries. You never asked people how much they earned or how they voted. It was even considered rude to read over another person's shoulder.

But now, email and cellphone hacking, taping conversations without permission and tabling the leaked personal health details of more than 6000 ACC clients in a meeting are, apparently, acceptable. I find that sad.

As I find it sad that in the same week we need a new law (Crimes Amendment Act No 3) which forces people not to mind their own business when they see a child being hurt. It's as a result of the Kahui twins' death, but there have been numerous court cases of murdered children where witnesses have admitted seeing injuries but turned away.

In 1992, 11-year-old Craig Manukau was kicked to death by his father while his mother turned up the radio to drown out the noise.

In 1997, 3-year-old Tishena Crosland was killed by her father David with sticks, shoes, pieces of wood and a studded belt. At least five people saw bruises on her before she died - and both these families were under CYF's watch.

This new law hopes to "hold individuals to account for harming the most vulnerable in our community".

We live in strange times when we need laws which, depending on the circumstances, force us to mind our own business and not mind our own business at the same time.

- Herald on Sunday

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