Editorial: Time for answers, ACC

BRONWYN PULLAR: ACC claimed she attempted to extort a benefit from the corporation after a worker sent her confidential details of hundreds of clients.
BRONWYN PULLAR: ACC claimed she attempted to extort a benefit from the corporation after a worker sent her confidential details of hundreds of clients.

Conventional wisdom has it that the smart thing to do if you are in a hole is to stop digging. That wisdom does not appear to have penetrated ACC's head office.

The state provider of personal cover for injuries is continuing to defend its handling of the case of a former Auckland businesswoman despite mounting evidence it has allowed enmity towards a difficult claimant to colour its judgment.

The facts are these: Bronwyn Pullar, a well-connected former National Party activist, has been battling ACC over various matters since suffering head injuries in a 2002 bicycle accident. On December 1 last year two senior ACC managers met Ms Pullar and long-time friend Michelle Boag, a former National Party president, to discuss her concerns. During the meeting Ms Pullar revealed that ACC had mistakenly emailed her the sensitive details of 6500 claimants. Several months later, when the privacy breach became public, ACC advised its minister that Ms Pullar had sought a guaranteed benefit payment for two years. It said she had threatened to retain the information and inform the media of the privacy breach if her demands were not met. The corporation referred the matter to the police.

This week the police completed their preliminary investigation. They have decided to proceed no further. In the words of assistant commissioner Malcolm Burgess "no offence has been disclosed".

There are two explanations for their decision.The first is that Ms Pullar did not use the words complained of by ACC. The second is that the words complained of did not constitute a criminal offence.

Both are possible, but the recording made of the meeting by Ms Pullar  heard by The Dominion Post  suggests the first is the case. At no point in the meeting did Ms Pullar or Ms Boag threaten to go to the media or withhold the data if Ms Pullar was not guaranteed compensation.

ACC chairman John Judge continues to insist that the report of the meeting supplied to new minister Judith Collins was "complete and accurate". He is wrong.

By her own admission Ms Pullar can be difficult. What she calls her "perseveration and pestering tactics" forced the ministerial resignation of her friend, and Ms Collins' predecessor as ACC minister, Nick Smith.

However, just because someone is awkward does not entitle a state corporation to ignore their rights. Ms Pullar says her privacy has been repeatedly breached by ACC and that it has forced her to jump through innumerable hoops. Other ACC clients report similar experiences.

The corporation is obliged to be a cautious steward of public money. The picture that is emerging, however, is of an organisation that is less concerned with safeguarding scarce resources than sparing itself inconvenience and embarrassment.

Ms Collins should be demanding change and she should be demanding Mr Judge explain his continued defence of the misleading account of the meeting between ACC staff and Ms Pullar.

The Dominion Post