The billion dollar-plus ACC blowout has come as a nasty surprise to the National Government and no doubt to many New Zealanders. Including, it would appear, former treasurer Michael Cullen.

Oh, sure, most of us have heard stories of legendary ACC bludgers. The tennis-playing millionaire property investor receiving more than $600 a week in payments for more than 30 years is a particular standout but every town has a former forestry worker with a bad back who works for under-the-table cash and pig-hunts in his spare time. ACC is not a perfect system, but then neither is any other country's.

I would hate to see us get to the stage that Australia has reached where people can sue for compensation for the most bizarre reasons. Like the guy who won more than $33,000 when he broke his left arm. He'd slipped in a grease trail left by a man who was wearing pork chops on his feet. (The chap been told he wouldn't be served alcohol because he'd lost his shoes so he tied the pork chops he'd won in a pub raffle to his feet. All fun and games 'til somebody breaks an arm and takes you to court.)

So our scheme isn't ideal but it's surely better than us all looking to sue the pants off each other. However, thanks to a combination of poor investments, a once-in-a-lifetime recession, ballooning costs and a rise in the number of non-levy paying children and beneficiaries receiving ACC, the entire system is at risk.

Nick Smith says the culture of the department has to change. He says, and quite rightly, ACC has become another welfare agency rather than an insurer.

But just as the department's culture has to change, so too does ours. The concept that it's OK to rip off the "system" is prevalent - among all socio-economic groups. The poor and the disenfranchised see it as their God-given right to receive ACC payments because the world owes them a living; the upwardly mobile professionals are just as sweet about having ACC pay for their physiotherapy sessions and their taxi rides to six-figure paying jobs because they never get anything for free so why not make the most of it?

This idea that we're somehow getting something for nothing has been shown as the sham that it is with the revelation that we will all have to pay to cover the shortfall and keep the system going.

Not surprisingly, the idea of user pays is gaining traction. Why should a professional woman of 57, who's never had a parking ticket in her life, far less an accident, be expected to pay the same ACC levy as a professional woman of 57 who's an habitual drunk driver and who's been involved in three injury accidents? Surely all but the most tribal of Labour voters can see the sense in privatising at least some part of ACC. What's wrong with stringent guidelines and accountability?

I love physiotherapists. Well, the physios I've seen anyway. And I've seen a few of them over the years. They're efficient. They're accessible. And they work. Over the past few years, as I've taken up kickboxing and marathon running in a desperate attempt to ward off a midlife crisis, I've encountered many a physio. Such is their skill, I've usually needed only two or three visits. But I fail to see why the rest of you should have to pay for my physio treatment.

According to statistics, we're turning increasingly to individual sports like running. And cycling. And hiking. And whereas official clubs are hit with ACC levies, individuals who just lace up their sneakers and walk out the door, are not. Why can't some of the GST on sporting goods go towards ACC?

There are a million ways - we really need 10 billion ways - to tighten up a system that seems to have turned into a cash dispenser, chundering money. And hopefully that can be done without doing away with the system all together.

* www.kerrewoodham.com