John Judge had to go. Today's announcement of the departure of the ACC board chief was hardly a shock - see: ACC Board chair John Judge goes. Leaving John Judge in charge of ACC until the privacy breach inquiries were finished - and only then asking questions about ACC's police complaint - could only be seen as implicit support from the Government, no matter how they may try to avoid saying it in public. So Judith Collins was probably under pressure to find a way to be rid of Judge. She couldn't allow the ACC mess to fester. After all, National's political management has been severely tested over class sizes, and Collins' previous decision to sue Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little was already widely seen to be a poor decision in terms of getting past the bad publicity. Judge's scalp was necessary to begin the clean-up. But will it be enough?
Foreshadowing today's departure, Patrick Gower said last night that the opposition parties smell more blood and Collins and Key would have a tough time in Parliament today defending Judge and CEO Ralph Stewart, particularly over claims they misled over having heard the recording at the centre of the furore - see Gower's Questions over ACC board's credibility. So Ralph Stewart must be feeling uncomfortable now too.
If the class size backdown was a train wreck, ACC has become it's slo-mo equivalent, continuing to scythe victims in its path. Although it might all seem very drawn out, the body count just keeps growing. The decision to replace Judge with Paula Rebstock will also be a controversial one. If Steven Joyce has become the 'Minister for Everything' then Rebstock seems to be in the running to be the 'Civil Servant for All Things'.
If you missed it, it's well worth watching TV3's 60 Minutes investigation into the Bronwyn Pullar's ACC scandal: The Eye of the Storm. While it is a sympathetic account of Pullar's story the programme scores some damning blows against ACC, including it's CEO and Chair. Pullar projects herself as a genuine whistleblower, a former powerbroker and highflyer who finds herself at the mercy of a powerful corporation and is fighting back against their bullying - not just for herself, but on behalf all of ACC's clients. Motivations are almost impossible to prove but the evidence, as the police found, doesn't support the accusations ACC has thrown at her.
Today's Herald editorial concedes that heads may have to roll at ACC but is more skeptical about Pullar's and Boag's claims that no blackmail was implied. The editorial, Collins may have to swing axe at ACC, cites Boag's recorded response of 'Absolutely' at the meeting when an ACC manager suggested that Pullar would return the leaked case files if a settlement was made. But the editorial misses the fact that in that same recording Pullar herself was unequivocal in denying that she would use the files in any way that would violate client's privacy. It is also clear that it was ACC that explicitly linked Pullar's ACC settlement to return of the client files. So who was actually blackmailing who? Is it really appropriate for public servants to offer financial settlements in a way that might make their privacy leak controversies go away?
The Government had an easy, if temporary answer, on the privacy breaches - they would wait until the numerous inquiries are completed before taking action - see Isaac Davison's Key and Collins keep ACC bosses at arm's length until inquiries done. But those inquiries are not actually looking at ACC's extraordinary accusations, which they continue to make in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In fact the Prime Minister readily admits the inquiries will not deal with all the issues - see Danya Levy and Phil Kitchin's ACC needs to answer questions, Key admits.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The teacher unions are the main target of the Government's divide and rule performance pay policy argues Chris Trotter in Treasury's latest victim (http://bit.ly/KwF5M5). John Armstrong thinks Key, having exhausted his political capital, will need to reach out beyond his current coalition partners - see: Right idea, says Key, but we sold it badly. Giovanni Tiso looks at the fundamental educational philosophies behind the controversy - read his blogpost, Un-Educated. Colin James has his own post-mortem on the Budget backdown on class sizes, and he says it's 'David Shearer's first decisive win over Key' - see: A win for Shearer. But much work still to do.
* National continues to come under pressure over raising the age for National Super, with research commissioned by the Financial Services Council claiming both public support and financial neccessity to raise the age - see: Support for rise in super age, survey shows. The FSC wants private savings to be a bigger part of retirement funding - which is not surprising as their members will be clipping the tickets along the way - and they dismiss out of hand the other option of increasing taxes to maintain the current system. The obvious problem of extending working lives when unemployment is already high is covered by Gordon Campbell who points out that raising the age may just transfer the costs to unemployment benefits for older workers - see: On the affordability of state support for the elderly.
* You won't need to turn the lights on tonight according to Treasury - or rather Scott Yorke, in a very funny Treasury Report On Sunlight Levels.
* Bob Jones has made a welcome return to writing opinion pieces, with a weekly Herald column. Today's is typically bizarre in its musings about the Prime Minister - see: What's left that could shock us?.
* Colin Craig is apparently hard to dislike. Guyon Espiner's very interesting interview with the social and fiscal conservative is now online - see: Colin Craig: Living in the fast lane.
* The Prime Minister revealed his musical preferences today in an online discussion: Katy Perry, the Eagles, and Hayley Westenra - see John Hartevelt's Key live chat covers class sizes to Katy Perry. Some might also be surprised or perplexed that John Key claims that the thing he celebrates most about this country is 'that we are an egalitarian society'.