ACC boss resigns amid political pressure

ACC board chairman John Judge
ACC board chairman John Judge

Ralph Stewart has resigned as chief executive of ACC, the corporation has confirmed.

It is the second high-profile resignation in two days.

Chairman John Judge was effectively shown the door yesterday after political pressure over the Bronwyn Pullar case.

ACC boss Ralph Stewart has resigned.
ACC boss Ralph Stewart has resigned.

The Dominion Post has learnt that his deputy, John McCliskie, and another director, Rob Campbell, will also be replaced.

ACC Minister Judith Collins confirmed last night that the terms of five board members expired in March, and three would not be renewed.

"I think what you'll see is a change in direction. The fact is, we have board members whose terms have expired and I'm taking the opportunity to bring in people who I believe will be able to help change the direction," Ms Collins said.

New appointments to the board were pending approval from the responsible Cabinet committee. Government enforcer and existing director Paula Rebstock would act as chairwoman until a permanent appointment was made.

Mr Judge and chief executive Ralph Stewart were called to a meeting in the Beehive yesterday morning, during which Mr Judge was told he would not be kept on the board.

Green MP Kevin Hague had called for Mr Judge to be sacked after appearing to mislead the public about a police complaint made by ACC about Ms Pullar.

But Ms Collins rejected criticism of the police referral, and insisted Mr Judge had moved on because of a new role as chairman of ANZ National Bank.

However, the departure of Mr Judge, Mr McCliskie and Mr Campbell will send a strong message to the board and the organisation.

Ms Collins has been embarrassed by a string of privacy blunders, headed off by revelations of the accidental release of details about 6752 claimants to Ms Pullar.

There needed to be "a whole different way of looking at people", she said.

"I've got no problem with them getting people back to work, no problem with that at all – actually, that's what they need to do.

"It's all about rehabilitation. But I do expect people to be treated with professionalism, and a lack of professionalism is something I find very concerning."

A "change of direction", led from the board, would take privacy from "very low down on the pecking order" to "very much high up on the agenda".

"It's very hard for a monopoly trying to get people to treat your clients or your claimants as though you're in a competitive business, but that's what I feel that they need to."

Mr Hague said the change of board leader was an opportunity to steer ACC "back to its original role as the provider of full and fair compensation and rehabilitation to injured New Zealanders".

"Under its current board, ACC has turned away from those principles to ones more commonly seen in private sector insurance companies where the focus is on getting rid of long-term, expensive clients," Mr Hague said.

Ms Collins suggested a shift to electronic record-keeping had sparked some of the privacy problems.

"The situation has occurred where, if there were inappropriate comments put on hard-copy files, those were the sorts of things that might be removed at some stage when someone sensible looking at it thought `that's not sensible, let's take that off'. But you can't do that with electronic files – once it's there, it's there."

Ms Collins said she had seen a legal opinion prepared by Hugh Rennie, QC, for Mr Judge, which backed the decision to refer Ms Pullar to police over her refusal to return private details about thousands of other ACC claimants she was accidentally sent and blackmail claims.

"I don't know what else they could do, actually, on the information that they had. They had a situation where the claimant wasn't giving the information back to them at that stage...

"They had information that led them to believe that they had staff members who were being subject to extortion," she said.

"It's their decision but I believe that they would have made that decision honestly based on what they knew."

However, Mr Stewart had left "an unfortunate impression" that he had not heard a tape recording of the meeting in which Ms Pullar was alleged to have attempted extortion, Ms Collins said.


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The Dominion Post