Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Nick Smith resignation 'truly regrettable' - Pullar

Bronwyn Pullar. Photo / One News
Bronwyn Pullar. Photo / One News

The personal data of 6700 other ACC claimants was accidentally sent to Bronwyn Pullar last year by the corporation during an email exchange about ACC's breach of her own privacy, Ms Pullar said this afternoon.

Ms Pullar, the woman the woman at the centre of the scandal that cost senior Cabinet Minister Nick Smith his job this week, issued a statement in which she apologised to him.

In a statement she said she was "very sorry" Dr Smith resigned yesterday, saying it was an "unintended consequence" of her actions.

Dr Smith resigned yesterday as it emerged he had at least twice intervened in Ms Pullar's ACC claim while he was ACC Minister in the last term of Government.

"It is truly regrettable. I know you were only trying to help a mate - I wish you well Nick," Pullar said in a statement.

Two weeks ago Ms Pullar, who suffered head injuries in a 2002 cycling accident, went to the media with data about 6700 ACC claimants, including victims of incest and sexual abuse.

The information appears to have been accidentally emailed to her by an ACC employee in August last year.

ACC alleges that during a December meeting with two senior executives Ms Pullar attempted to secure a two year guaranteed benefit in exchange for the data, a claim that Ms Pullar disputes.

ACC has confirmed that meeting was set up after Ms Pullar approached an ACC board member earlier in the year about her claim.

The Herald understands that board member was Nelson based John McLiskie who like Ms Pullar, is a former employee of apple marketing firm Enza.

"He was not advised of the Privacy breach. The Director followed the standard protocols and referred the enquiry to the Chairman who intern referred the enquiry to ACC Management who in response organised the Auckland meeting", ACC said.

In her statement today, Ms Pullar said an ACC staff member had improperly accessed her
claim file seven times and lied to management about it.

That matter was the subject of ongoing investigations by the Privacy Commissioner, State Services Commissioner and Ombudsman.

The file containing the information about other claimants was mistakenly attached to an email from an ACC area manager who was corresponding with her about the alleged privacy breach.

Meanwhile, Ms Pullar also said ACC had early this week leaked her name to the media.

"[ACC] set out to intentionally destroy my privacy and reputation - an excellent example of how little regard ACC has for claimants' rights including respect for their privacy.

"It shows how ACC treats claimants with disdain. It show how ACC will smash anybody who dares speak out. Yet I am not easily intimidated," she said.

Last night, Mr Smith - who resigned his portfolios in an emotional statement to Parliament yesterday - said he would not comment on the nature of his relationship with Ms Pullar, "except to say I have a wonderful wife and family who are actually very distressed today, that I have been absolutely loyal to my wonderful wife and I will be to the end of my days".

The Nelson MP said he was not going to get into a commentary over who he had been in relationships with.

"I think many of you may be involved in relationships and if you were required to give evidence and other information and that if 10 years later you were asked how would you describe that person, we don't normally talk about our intimate private lives in public and I think it is quite proper, providing it doesn't change the circumstances, to say that person was a friend."

When Dr Smith met Ms Pullar in the 1990s, she was a volunteer regional communications manager for the party and worked for Enza which did a lot of business in Dr Smith's electorate.

She now works in branding and marketing and has previously been a brand manager at Zespri, a brand consultant at Frucor Beverages and a consultant at Carter Holt Harvey.

No need for inquiry - Key

The Prime Minister doesn't believe an official inquiry is needed into the Nick Smith controversy because the MP has resigned and wasn't trying to do anything "underhand''.

John Key told reporters today he was not ordering an inquiry into the affair, despite calls to do so from Opposition parties, because there was no need for one.

"I think everyone has moved on. The reality is the minister who was in charge has left the executive, the police and privacy commission are now looking at the other issues before them. There is nothing I have seen in the paperwork I have that gives me concern about the need for an investigation.''

Mr Key said only a few "random politicians'' seriously believed Dr Smith was trying to do something underhand. Although he considered the behaviour "unwise'', it didn't benefit Ms Pullar at all because she was still in dispute with ACC.

"It is what it is...and he has paid a very high price for it.''

Mr Key said Smith had been right to offer his resignation for breach of the cabinet manual and becoming involved in a situation where there had a perceived conflict of interest.

He defended the way he'd handled the situation.

"I don't think any Government actually has a record of acting as quickly as we do in terms of ministers who have left their portfolios. Even Labour in opposition had two weeks prior knowledge of issues relating to Darren Hughes. They did nothing about that... so it's a bit rich from the Opposition parties to say we're not acting fast enough.''

The Prime Minister didn't believe Dr Smith's resignation had tainted the image of his government.

"I think New Zealanders recognise we have high standards and those standards have been maintained. Nick Smith has resigned, that was the honorouble thing to do.''

Mr Key said he didn't think Dr Smith had shown inappropriate behaviour but there had been a perceived conflict of interest which was "not a good place for minister''.

He denied asking for the resignation but accepted it because he felt it was the right action for Dr Smith to take.

- NZ Herald

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