Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins refuses to express confidence in ACC's story

ACC Minister Judith Collins. File photo / Ben Fraser
ACC Minister Judith Collins. File photo / Ben Fraser

ACC Minister Judith Collins this morning refused to express confidence in the ACC's version of what took place when claimant Bronwyn Pullar met with corporation executives in December.

This week it was revealed that former National Party insider Ms Pullar made a recording of her meeting with senior ACC managers Philip Murch and Hans Verberne which she claims shows the corporation lied when it said she used a privacy breach as leverage for financial gain.

Ms Collins initially backed Mr Murch's account of what took place at that meeting, saying he was not told "what the nature was of that confidential information" and was "not fully aware of what was happening".

Based on an initial ACC report on the meeting and the privacy breach, police are investigating whether Ms Pullar attempted to secure a two-year benefit in exchange for the return of sensitive information about 6500 other claimants mistakenly sent to her by an ACC employee in August last year.

This morning Ms Collins said it would be improper for her to comment on the matter.

"It's actually quite unconstitutional for a minister to interfere in police investigations... I would think that anyone who has anything that is evidence such as a tape recording or a transcript that they should provide that to the police."

Asked whether she had confidence in the account of events in ACC's initial report she said: "Until those investigations are complete it would be premature of me to make assumptions.

"The fact is that there are currently Privacy Commissioner, Auditor General and police investigations and the police investigation is the one I think will deal with the issues that have been raised."

Yesterday, Ms Pullar said the recording showed that neither she or her support person at the December meeting, former National Party president Michelle Boag "threatened to withhold details of a mass privacy breach and go to the media if I did not get a guaranteed two-year benefit payment".

She also said the recording shows ACC's account of what was said at the meeting regarding details of the privacy breach and how it occurred was also incorrect.

However Ms Pullar refused to release the recording or a transcript, saying it contained sensitive personal health information.

In an extract of the transcript published yesterday, Ms Boag is quoted as saying: "I don't want to see headlines criticising the minister and the Government for things that have taken place ... And as I say, I mean we are all supportive of this Government. We do not want to see them embarrassed."

Yesterday, Ms Pullar said ACC had published the account of the meeting in which the extortion allegations were made without asking her and Ms Boag if there was any truth to them.

She had given ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart and others at the corporation the opportunity to listen to the recording.

"Despite ACC having heard a full recording of the meeting they have refused to correct their blatant lie, which continues to smear my reputation and Michelle Boag's."

But Labour's ACC spokesman Andrew Little said irrespective of what happened in the meeting, ACC had still asked for the information to be returned and Ms Pullar had not met that request until the story went public in March.

Mr Little said Ms Boag's subsequent email to ACC Minister Judith Collins after the story of the privacy breach broke clearly suggested some kind of deal had been discussed.

"Even if it wasn't about two years of entitlements, clearly some sort of arrangement was being talked about that was some sort of quid pro quo.

"Today's story, if it does anything, just confirms that the ACC officials may have misled the minister in their report, but it doesn't remove any of the cloud of doubt about the actual nature of the conversation that some deal was being struck to return information that she shouldn't have ever had in the first place."

Mr Little said the report highlighted the need for the various official inquiries into the matter "to hurry up and get on with the job, get some conclusions from some credible sources that we can start to see where the truth might actually lie".

However, Green Party ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said the public would have got the impression from ACC that Ms Pullar went into the December meeting demanding two years' compensation and threatening all sorts of consequences, "and very clearly that didn't occur in that meeting".

Mr Hague said the fact that ACC didn't refer the matter to the police immediately "gives rise to the suspicion that the complaint was essentially designed as a diversion from the scrutiny on its own actions".

"That suspicion is given added weight by the revelations today."

ACC would comment on the report yesterday, saying it was not appropriate to do so given the matter was under investigation by various authorities.

- NZ Herald

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