ACC Minister Nikki Kaye toyed with the idea of issuing a ministerial direction to make it abundantly clear to the board of directors just who is in the box seat when it comes to funding policies.

Kaye said yesterday she had stepped back from that particular brink.

Which is probably just as well as it is hard to imagine any competent board of directors - particularly one where Paula Rebstock is chairman and Trevor Janes deputy chairman - putting up (for long) with a minister injecting herself into what really should be their own preserve.

Such powers under the Crown Entities Act should be used only if a board is not up to the job or veering dangerously off course.


That is not the case with ACC, whose board and executive have steadily built it back into such a healthy position that the accident compensation scheme is now fully funded, that is, it has sufficient financial and other assets to match expected liabilities for lifetime injuries for the next 30 years or more.

Much of that is due to the sterling work by previous ACC chairman John Judge and his team, which reversed a $4.5 billion "black hole" in the fund's overall financial reserves.

But the Government will still be injecting itself into the overall control box through new legislation.

Kaye's rationale is that ACC is no different from any similar government entity. Ministers should set policy. Boards of directors should ensure policy objectives are carried out.

ACC has been through enormous turmoil at board level.

Despite his prowess on the funding front, Judge basically got the push by former ACC Minister Judith Collins over the Bronwyn Pullar affair.

Kaye inherited the portfolio from Collins in October, when the latter was forced to resign after an email leaked by blogger Cathy Odgers appeared to implicate her in a sting against former Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley. A subsequent inquiry found no evidence to support the allegation.

But back in May 2014 when Collins was still ACC Minister, the Cabinet took the view that changes to the existing legislation would be required to confirm the Government's "proper role" in the setting of funding policy.


There was some argy-bargy between the Cabinet and the ACC board. This is expected to be disclosed when Kaye releases a raft of documents including papers from the Treasury and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Kaye said the context for the behind-scenes debate was how to best move forward during a period of short-term volatility in discount rates and actual account solvency.

She is adamant there should not be a repeat of the 2004 to 2008 blowout that resulted in a significant deterioration in ACC's financial performance and outcomes. The upshot was a dramatic increase in the outstanding claims liability (or the value of the expected lifetime costs of existing claims).

Kaye also acknowledged the ACC team's investment success. In 2009 the ACC portfolio was worth $10 billion. At March 2015 it was $31.5 billion and had outperformed benchmarks for the past 19 years.

This week, Kaye also confirmed that Budget 2015 would foreshadow that further ACC levy cuts worth about half a billion dollars are likely in 2016/17 and 2017/18.

This will go some way to settling business angst over the level of levies, which bite hard at small business level.

There is a considerable difference of view between Labour and National on how ACC should be funded.

Labour says it would consider widespread changes and might look at a "pay as you go" scheme rather than fully funding ACC in the future - should it become Government.

Labour leader Andrew Little - who is also the party's ACC spokesman - has effectively accused the Government of usury and says ACC should simply collect "only enough levies during the year to cover the cost of claims for that particular year".

ACC's total reserves were $26.96 billion at the March 2014 year. One year on, they are $31.5 billion.

Little said the full funding model was appropriate in a competitive insurance market. But not one where the Government is tailend Charlie.

Kaye's contention is that if discount rates fall, the value of ACC's outstanding claims liability increases, and vice versa.

"This is why a conservative, long-term approach to levy setting is the correct one. We will undertake further work to balance the need to keep levies as low as possible."

Kaye maintains the roles of the Government and the ACC board are too vague. Her advice is that the responsibility for setting levies ultimately lies with the Government and should not be delegated. Where the Government and ACC board have differed on the rate for levy levels it makes it harder to hold the board accountable for the scheme's performance.

The 2014 Performance Improvement Framework Review of ACC also noted: "There is no overarching legislative framework that establishes the objectives to be met, or principles to guide, the annual levy setting process."

The Government now aims to address this.

The amended Accident Compensation Act incorporates moves to ensure:

Full funding as required in the current ACC Act. But detailing how the Government will "better guide funding and levy decisions".

Levy rates to remain reasonably stable and predictable over time to give clearer, less ambiguous signals to levy payers.

Each of the scheme's levied accounts to remain solvent over the long term, matching an adequate level of assets to the outstanding claims liability.

This is fine. But the Government should also reflect it has taken the sustained financial prowess of two successive ACC boards to build the fund up to such healthy level.

Directors should be given credit for that - if little else.