Fran O'Sullivan on business

Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Boag picked wrong target in Crusher

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Michelle Boag must take a great deal of blame for the ensuing fiasco. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Michelle Boag must take a great deal of blame for the ensuing fiasco. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Thousands of ACC claimants have good reason to be incensed at the way former National Party insider Bronwyn Pullar and her "support friend" Michelle Boag allowed them to be used as leverage in a failed power play.

It is crystal clear that Pullar - with Boag's implicit agreement - retained the confidential ACC records file she was accidentally sent last August. This file is said to have contained details of claims filed by 6700 individuals among them 250 claims from injuries resulting from sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Many claimants will be incandescent with rage at the obvious - even if accidental - breach of privacy.

But even though Pullar maintains she has been fighting a decade-long battle to screw a better deal out of ACC and has alleged her own privacy was breached by officials on 45 separate occasions, she did not immediately alert the corporation that the file had turned up in her inbox.

Nor did she return the file or delete it from her own email cache. (It became public when the file turned up in an investigative reporter's hands six months later).

Boag knew this when she agreed to go with Pullar as her "support friend" to an ACC meeting last December. The file quickly became a point of contention.

It was alleged that ACC offered Pullar two years' payments so she could re-establish her business on the condition the file was returned. ACC denies this.

But in an email to ACC Minister Judith Collins last week, Boag maintained a verbal agreement was discussed after she and Pullar urged an investigation of the privacy breach "for the sake of your ministry, your board, your CEO".

The Boag email is reported to have said it was "verbally agreed" the information would be returned "on agreement on the way forward".

Boag went on to say ACC should deal with the privacy breach internally - "I am a supporter of this Government and I also call [former ACC minister] Nick Smith a friend. I don't want him embarrassed. I have friends on the ACC."

Any Cabinet minister sitting in "The Crusher's" shoes - particularly a politician with as strong an instinct for self-preservation as Collins has - would quickly have worked out the impact of Boag's email was they were also likely to be dragged into the same mud-pool which subsequently swallowed Nick Smith.

The ACC Minister would quickly have reached the conclusion that all Boag's email did was to compromise her.

Hence she sent it to the ACC .

Collins' fingerprints will not be directly attached to the copy of the Boag email that was later leaked to the Herald on Sunday.

But the ACC Minister, who is a former Law Society president, will not be shedding any crocodile tears over Pullar's predicament. Nor will she be concerned at Boag's embarrassment after she was hung out to dry.

Pullar is currently in the public spotlight. But a great deal of the blame for this fiasco has to be put at Boag's door.

A political "hard ass" of the first order, her style is to get extremely aggressive when cornered. Hence her fury at finding out from the Herald on Sunday that her email had been leaked. What did she expect?

A more skilful operator would have insisted that Pullar return the file before the December meeting so there could never be any suggestion that the pair were trying to blackmail ACC into dishing out more benefits.

But Boag's approach is clumsy.

Her record at managing conflicts of interests is not impressive.

As National Party president she threatened to have expelled from the party any official who had been involved in an SFO complaint over secret donations from Fay Richwhite that did not go immediately into party coffers. Yet, she had previously been Fay Richwhite's PR flack.

She got in hot water with the Davison Commission over the secret filming of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters at the "Winebox" tax-dodging inquiry.

Despite her reported comments that it was untrue that the Fay Richwhite-funded film was to be used in a hatchet job on Peters, the film crew gave the impression to the inquiry that its film would ultimately be used for more than simple record purposes.

She subsequently stood down as a Television New Zealand director and as National's communications chairwoman after a story was published pointing out her position was untenable.

The upshot of failing to give her friend clear advice that it was inappropriate to discuss the privacy breach in the same meeting that Pullar's own circumstances were to be canvassed could have only one outcome.

Embarrassment all round and grounds for a full inquiry.

- NZ Herald

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