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Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins steps in to purge unwanted ACC bosses

Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA
Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA

ACC Minister Judith Collins effectively removed ACC chairman John Judge yesterday and has given two other board members their marching orders as she sought to draw a line under the Bronwyn Pullar fiasco.

Ms Collins said Mr Judge would step down as chairman after meeting him a few hours earlier.

Pressure on Mr Judge and ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart has been mounting since police last week said they had investigated ACC's allegations of extortion against Ms Pullar and would not press charges.

ACC's allegations were also undermined when TV3's 60 Minutes programme broadcast a recording of a December meeting between Ms Pullar and ACC managers.

The recording suggested the managers initiated a deal for the return of information about thousands of other claimants mistakenly emailed to Ms Pullar months earlier.

Ms Collins said she discussed the item with Mr Judge but his recent appointment as chairman of ANZ National Bank was the central reason he was leaving ACC.

"Mr Judge agreed with me that it would be appropriate given his new role and the fact that to bring in the new culture into ACC that I want to see ... it would be appropriate for him to step down."

Mr Judge had previously indicated he wished to stay on as ACC chairman, but Ms Collins said she was very concerned he would not have time to oversee the culture change.

The Herald understands Mr Judge's boardroom ally Rob Campbell was also told recently he would not be reappointed as an ACC director when his term ends.

It is also understood another board member, John McCliskie, has been told the same thing. Mr McCliskie is the old friend of Ms Pullar whom she approached last year about her ACC claim. Mr McCliskie referred the matter to Mr Judge, leading to the December meeting.

Ms Collins yesterday still backed ACC's decision to refer the matter to the police. That decision was made by Mr Judge and Mr Stewart and was backed by their legal counsel.

"I don't know what else they could have done faced with the information they had from their managers."

That information was "very one-sided" at the time they made the decision, she said.

Ms Collins could not recall "with any certainty" whether the matter was discussed with her before the complaint was made to police.

She would not comment on whether Mr Stewart should remain as chief executive of the corporation, saying that was a matter for the board.

The National Government's increasingly busy trouble-shooter Paula Rebstock will be acting chairwoman of ACC until a permanent replacement for Mr Judge is found.

Labour, the Greens and ACC claimants' advocates welcomed Ms Collins' comments that Mr Judge's departure marked a culture change at the corporation.

ACC has faced increasing pressure over the harder line it has taken with long-term claimants in recent years, while Mr Judge recently clashed with the Herald over articles highlighting ACC's tougher approach to elective surgery claims.

Labour's ACC spokesman, Andrew Little, said Mr Judge had done as he was told by former ACC Minister Nick Smith, "which was to cut costs at the expense of legitimate claims from New Zealanders".

Greens ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said that under its current board, ACC had focused on getting rid of long-term, expensive clients.

Ms Collins said there was little evidence that ACC was turning down legitimate claims and the culture change she was seeking was instead about maintaining respect for claimants and their privacy.

- NZ Herald

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