Editorial: Collins may have to swing axe at ACC

ACC Minister Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA
ACC Minister Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA

Accident compensation claimant Bronwyn Pullar and her friend Michelle Boag say they have been vindicated by a tape recording they made at a meeting where they were said to have tried to take advantage of an email accident. But this tape leaves neither side with much credit.

Certainly, the tape has not recorded an overt threat in the terms that ACC officers alleged. But it remains strange that the subject was even raised at a meeting that was arranged, as Ms Boag says, purely to discuss Ms Pullar's personal case. Why did she feel it relevant to tell the officers, "An email was sent to Bronwyn ... and it contained thousands of elements of highly sensitive information ... ," before she returned to the subject of her friend's needs?

Understandably, the officers inferred they were being offered a deal and the tape records that when one of them said, "I guess from our point of view, one of the things that when we reach a settlement ... is we will want the information back", Ms Boag replied, "Absolutely".

She presents Ms Pullar to the public as a "whistle-blower" on the ACC's shoddy computer security but whistle-blowers do not agree to suggestions that they remain quiet, or if they do they cannot claim to be acting purely in the public interest.

Ms Pullar has a long-running resentment of the ACC's refusal to satisfy her claim. Nevertheless, when one of her email exchanges with her assessors accidentally dropped information on thousands of other people's claims into her lap she ought to have either deleted the material immediately, or made the ACC's privacy breach a matter of public knowledge very quickly, then deleted the evidence. Waiting three months can only suggest she was more interested in her own case.

While it is to ACC's credit that it did not agree to the bargain its officers at the meeting believed they had been offered, the corporation still has a security problem to fix, and much deeper problems on the evidence of Ms Pullar's treatment. She says one of its own doctors was in contact with a specialist to whom she had been referred by ACC for an independent assessment of her injury.

She has received an apology for that unfairness but remains understandably upset about it, and about the way the doctor referred to her in an email discussion with ACC staff. He said she had "fleeced ACC for seven years", that she had a "narcissistic personality disorder", and appeared to have "manipulated a clinician into providing an inaccurate report for the sole purpose of providing financial gain, or in more direct terms, fraud".

An Auckland amputee was described in similarly despicable terms in an email she made public two months ago. She also had received an apology - her third from the corporation in four years. The ACC may not be able to improve the security of its internal communications but it must insist on its officers being ethical, professional and objective.

Loose aggressive talk can only confirm the poor impression ACC has given with its rejection of elective surgery claims that it puts down to degenerative conditions.

As a public insurance scheme ACC probably has to be tougher than a private insurance company where competition keeps costs and premiums under control.

But too many elective surgery refusals have been reversed on appeal and the culture behind those decisions stands exposed by internal email.

Now that police are taking no action on Ms Pullar's case and the Privacy Commission has put the material she received at "the lower end" of security breaches, ACC Minister Judith Collins must do something to restore confidence in the corporation. A head may have to fall.

- NZ Herald

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