Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Launch inquiry to root out what has to be rotten

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Judith Collins has a lot to answer for as new ACC Minister. Photo / APN
Judith Collins has a lot to answer for as new ACC Minister. Photo / APN

After Nick Smith, the previous minister of the Accident Compensation Corporation, its chief executive, the board's chairman and other assorted members all got the chop, you'd think new minister Judith Collins and Prime Minister John Key would have breathed a sigh of relief.

Surely the ACC debacle would blow over?

After the top ACC leaders took the rap, it would have been normal for the media and Opposition politicians to concede there was no more drama to be squeezed out of this and move on.

Alas for the Government, it's not going away. The problems around ACC, as everyone knows, are much deeper than a few missteps by those sacked. ACC is rotten to the core.

This week, two more major blows landed on the ACC Minister and the Government.

Firstly, Labour's ACC spokesperson, Andrew Little, claimed that Collins might have encouraged the ACC chairman and chief executive to lay a police complaint of extortion against ACC complainant Bronwyn Pullar.

Remember that meeting between her, Michelle Boag and senior ACC managers?

ACC claimed Pullar had tried to blackmail them, despite both women's denials. It did seem odd at the time that ACC proceeded with the criminal claims when at best it was a "your word against mine" scenario.

Disturbingly, a smear campaign went into action, portraying the hapless claimant in a distinctly dodgy light. Pullar's assertion that she was being mistreated deliberately by her case officers was spun into a scenario that she was an obsessive woman trying to screw the system.

In my view it became obvious that senior players at ACC, right to the top, were determined to destroy Pullar because her actions had embarrassed them.

It would have worked, too. Unfortunately for them, however, Pullar rightly believed that ACC was out to get her so she taped the meeting. That recording supported her version. Despite hearing a copy of the tape, the ACC hierarchy stuck to their story. After the cops heard the tape they promptly exonerated Pullar.

Little's suspicions need investigating. The dates on which police say a complaint was laid, and when Collins initially said she was aware of a complaint, do not line up.

Could it be that Collins actively used her position to pressure her department to lay a criminal charge against one of their clients? If true, Collins would have broken serious legal and ethical rules and her parliamentary career should be over. After all of the incredible statements that have come out of ACC so far, nothing short of an inquiry, led by a judge, will get the truth.

The other revelation, from Green MP Kevin Hague, is that the ACC collective employment agreement pays bonuses for lowering the number of long-term payments to citizens who have accidents. This exposes an ethical problem that can't be answered credibly.

Hague adds that there is also a widespread and systemic policy of hand-picking consultants who don't even see a patient but rubberstamp case officers' decisions to deny help.

Apparently it's a deliberate policy to lessen payouts.

Many people don't have the knowledge or the energy to fight back.

How does something as gross as this happen? It occurs because this Government stacked the ACC board with right-wing financiers with the instruction to treat ACC as a profit-making monopoly.

It's no wonder they treat their clients as potential fraudsters rather than injured people who have dutifully paid their ACC levies for years and rightly expect assistance in their hour of need. How crass that this board proudly announced last year they had made $3.5 billion at the same time thousands of clients were being denied help deliberately.

ACC is sacred responsibility, not a business. It has lost its moral compass. Only a Royal Commission can fix the deep ethical and dysfunctional culture that infects its system.

- Herald on Sunday

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