Editorial: No need for wider inquiry on ACC leak

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Michelle Boag. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Michelle Boag. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Pullar-Boag saga has taken some odd turns since the resignation of former ACC Minister Nick Smith. In Parliament opposition parties casting about for another scalp suspected the present ACC Minister, Judith Collins, was behind an enlightening leak. The minister not only denied it, she is suing two Labour MPs and Radio New Zealand National. This week, the Prime Minister took matters to a new level of absurdity when he contemplated allowing her legal costs to be paid from the public purse. Fortunately, she has decided to fund the action herself. But all of this is largely irrelevant to the concerns the story has raised.

The Opposition does not really care that an email sent to Ms Collins by former National Party president Michelle Boag was leaked to the Herald on Sunday. Labour must be rather glad it was leaked because it revealed that the ACC claimant accused of using a privacy breach for her own advantage was a National Party activist and that Ms Boag had supported her.

That disclosure led to the discovery that Dr Smith had foolishly interceded with his officials for her, and later it was revealed that the claimant, Bronwyn Pullar, had invoked the names of no fewer than 28 National politicians in support of a $14 million claim she had made on the Sovereign Insurance company. One of them, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who retired at the November election, helped her to reach a settlement with the company, understood to be for $1 million, for the injury that also gave rise to her ACC claim.

Yet with all of this to chew on, the Labour Party was more interested in who had leaked Ms Boag's email to Ms Collins. Their suspicion settled on the minister for no obvious reason. This ACC Minister might not be a "friend" of Ms Pullar, nor of Ms Boag possibly, but she was unlikely to leak a message that could only invite further questions of her.

She should have dismissed the suggestion as absurd, no matter how often it was made, whether in Parliament or outside. She had no need to threaten a defamation writ when the accusation was made on radio. Members of Parliament have an effective public forum for quickly dealing with a slur from anywhere. They have only to stand, state the truth to the House and opponents are unable to repeat the accusation in the chamber unless further evidence comes to light. Their statement carries weight because MPs dare not mislead the House.

If Ms Collins is determined to go to court she must pay her own way. Ministers can expect the public to pay their costs when information they give outside Parliament in the course of their job exposes them to a defamation suit, but initiating a suit is quite different. A minister who brings an action is supposed to have the case investigated by the Solicitor-General if the Crown is to finance it.

Even to discuss this sideshow risks contributing to the confusion that suits Opposition politics. It muddies the water and supports calls for a wider inquiry than those already under way. But there is no need of a wider inquiry. The questions that matter are clear and can be answered by the Privacy Commissioner and the police.

Most people are probably not as confused as the Opposition would like them to be. They would read Ms Pullar to be an incorrigible name-dropper and conclude that a National politician would need to do no more than listen to her case with polite sympathy to be added to her list of presumed supporters.

The email accident that put a spreadsheet of cases in her hands awaits the report of the Privacy Commissioner and the use Ms Pullar made of it is a matter for the police. Those are the issues that matter - the later twists in the saga are just politics.

- NZ Herald

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