Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Is Bronwyn Pullar a hero?

Bronwyn Pullar has helped lift the veil on ACC's operations, many say. Photo / TV3
Bronwyn Pullar has helped lift the veil on ACC's operations, many say. Photo / TV3

Don't expect Bronwyn Pullar's name to be in the New Years honours list, but there is a view she has done us all a service by forcing ACC to front up on its shortcomings. John Armstrong agrees with that assessment which was expressed yesterday by Michael Crompton, a former Australian Privacy Commissioner who helped author one of the ACC reviews - see Armstrong's Pullar has done us a huge favour.

Sometimes political scandals do indeed work out well due to the power of activist-inclined citizens and investigative journalism. The shakeup of ACC that we're currently witnessing would never have happened if not for the dogged work of Bronwyn Pullar and Phil Kitchin of the Dominion Post. Kitchin himself points out that there is still more to come - neither of the reports yesterday dealt with the laying of the blackmail complaint against Pullar - see: Culture of fear at ACC.

The independent reports are, for the most part, highly-technocratic in focus, non-ideological and non-political. Although they contain some very sensible recommendations for improving ACC, they are unlikely to produce any significant changes to the nature of the organisation. They recommend that operating systems are improved and the board needs to pay closer attention to some key issues. They don't address deeper concerns which are very much political - such as the way that recent governments have reconfigured the Corporation to operate along private sector lines.

For example, Danya Levy reports Greens ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague's explanation for the current problems in ACC: 'much of the culture could be attributed to former ACC minister Nick Smith's directive to the corporation in 2009 to focus on its bottom line.

However, he said that change begun in the late 1990s when the former National government moved from a "pay as you go" funding model to an insurance industry-type funding model. It was not reversed by the former Labour government' - see: Political consensus needed on ACC. The single-minded focus on reducing long-term client numbers was identified as one reason for the board dropping the ball over Pullar's case, and Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim Post has a graph showing just how determined they were on this measure - even if it meant just shifting clients onto sickness benefits - see: Speaking of ACC.

ACC Minister Judith Collins says the recommendations will be implemented, although it is worth noting that the 'culture of fear' amongst senior managers probably isn't improved with the steady stream of heads rolling - a case of the floggings will continue until morale improves? Jock Anderson at the NBR argues that Collins' actions have made the situation worse, with what little experience there was on the ACC board being eliminated - see: Collins takes body blow over Pullar affair.

Not everyone is a Pullar fan, of course. Cameron Slater has done his own analysis which he says shows Pullar actually gave ACC very little time to respond to her complaints see: ACC Privacy Breach - Timeline of a poker player and ACC Privacy Breach Overview - What was sent to Bronwyn Pullar.

However, as is usual in these cases, it's not the initial error that is crucial, but the lack of response and attempts to cover-up and silence critics that do the real damage.

But the most interesting response to the report has been that of Minister Judith Collins' refusing to go on TV3's Campbell Live, but instead uploaded a statement to YouTube. This resulted in John Campbell producing an irreverent but also serious examination of the Minister's new foray into YouTube - watch the video here.

Other important or interesting political items today include:
• Like the record numbers of Kiwis leaving for Australia (see Claire Trevett's Tables are turned on Key), the MSD report showing income inequality is at its highest ever level, is very hard for the Government to spin - see: TVNZ's Gap between rich and poor highest ever, report shows and Michelle Cooke's Poor get poorer, inequality reigns - survey. But one academic blogger asks: Where's the opposition?

• 'Doomed to fail' is probably the best way to describe Kiwirail's legal attempt to block Radio New Zealand from reporting a leaked internal report that says the company faces tough times in coming years - see RNZ's Injunction eased on RNZ over KiwiRail report. We shouldn't blame the judge who granted the interim injunction says Steven Price, but he is concerned that it may drag out for weeks - see: Railing against illegal disclosure. Kiwirail's injunction will just increase public awareness of the report, which will likely end up on the internet in spite of any court orders says David Farrar - see: Kiwirail.

• The west simply cannot defeat the Taleban argues Chris Trotter in Dangerous battle against Taleban 'ghosts', but Robert Patman of the University of Otago says the aim for some time has been to lessen their influence in a post-war Afghanistan, and that is one of the Moral, diplomatic and strategic reasons to stay.

• Upsetting the Hungarians will not help us with another international campaign - see Newswire's Insults won't help get UN seat - Goff, while another John Key comment has come under sustained attack from a significant sector of our health system - see Claire Trevett's PM's 'misguided' euthanasia views anger palliative care specialists.

• Never mind 'cutting and running' from the Taleban - what about waving the white flag to the Booze Barons? The Herald Editorial is very critical of what it says is a clear backdown in the face of lobbyists - see: Govt's cave-in on alcopops is shameful. Ex-MP Sue Kedgley writes that the industry reps were not afraid of making threats to a select committee considering the issue last year - see: Booze industry win, means youths suffer.

• We should always be wary when the word 'crisis' is used to justify a policy change, and Eric Crampton questions the level of harm alcohol is claimed to cause, including the refusal to acknowledge that alcohol actually has some positive health benefits - see: Our drinking culture - is it really a crisis?

• Even if tobacco companies win the fight over plain packaging they will still lose argues today's Press editorial - see: 'Spooked' by plain packaging for tobacco.

• The MMP review could result in National's popularity with women voters falling even further says Gordon Campbell - see: Mind the widening gender voting gap. And on the issue of the review process, Andrew Geddis asks: Is someone trying to game the MMP review?

• Although we all may be wincing as we fill up at the petrol pumps, we are actually paying less than we did thirty years ago, particularly when increased fuel efficiency is taken into account - see: Matthew Theunissen's Petrol today still cheaper than in 1980s.

• For a review of the week in parliamentary politics, see Jane Clifton's What you already know won't hurt "us", and also her take on what's happening in Labour: Will there be a Labour leadership coup?

• Finally, TV3's Campbell Live is skewered by John Drinnan for their ongoing promotion of Griffin's Choco-ade campaign - see: Bloggers want PR to pay.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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