Culture of fear within ACC

PHIL KITCHIN
INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR
Last updated 06:57 24/08/2012
Bronwyn Pullar
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BRONWYN PULLAR: Was leaked the personal details of thousands of ACC claimants.
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JUDITH COLLINS: ACC minister.

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Further action could yet be taken against senior ACC managers who failed to act on whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar's first warnings of a massive privacy breach.

As a damning independent report into the breach was published yesterday, ACC Minister Judith Collins has revealed that senior management were operating in a culture of fear at the time.

MAIN POINTS

  • Two inquiries reported back yesterday.  The first was commissioned by ACC and the Privacy Commissioner to review the security of personal information and the second by Auditor-General Lyn Provost inquired into whether ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar got special treatment.
  • Two more reports are due, including one looking into a leaked email which is now the subject of defamation action by ACC Minister Judith Collins.
  • The Privacy Commissioner and ACC report recommended that: ACC create a ‘‘positive privacy mindset’’ to rebuild  trust and be seen as ‘‘firm but fair"; strengthen board oversight of personal information management; bolster privacy  and strengthen the organisational culture; strengthen privacy accountability and provide additional resources to clear backlogs on privacy-related processes, among others.
  • Ms  Provost found that Ms Pullar used her former professional relationship with ACC board member John McCliskie to pull strings but derived no special benefit. The board was criticised for failing to act on systemic problems raised by Ms Pullar.
  • She found that no blame could be attached to chief executive Ralph Stewart. Mr Stewart resigned  after chairman John Judge was forced out.

The report vindicates Ms Pullar, who revealed the breach after making repeated complaints to ACC management, board and staff members about privacy and other alleged breaches of the corporation's codes and laws.

Ms Pullar, an ACC client, was inadvertently sent private details of 6500 fellow clients. The information contained names and details of hundreds of people from ACC's sensitive claims unit, including rape and incest victims.

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Since The Dominion Post revealed the privacy breach in March, the fallout from the scandal has included the resignations of Cabinet minister Nick Smith and chief executive Ralph Stewart, and the departure from ACC's board of chairman John Judge and directors John McCliskie and Rob Campbell.

Ms Collins said yesterday she had been told by Mr Stewart that, when he arrived in August last year, "even senior management worked in a culture of fear . . . people felt they could not tell others about what had happened".

Asked whether she believed ACC should take action against senior managers involved in the case, she said it was difficult to comment on individual staff.

Interim ACC chairwoman Paula Rebstock said yesterday that she could not talk about individual managers either, but ACC would look at performance issues and take appropriate action.

The corporation accepted it had a poor culture on privacy and would accept a string of recommendations to change that culture, she said.

Ms Collins said she expressed concerns about ACC's culture to Mr Judge on more than one occasion, and said she wanted clients treated with respect, courtesy and professionalism.

The board did not seem to understand "just how important privacy was", and in June she dumped Mr Judge, Mr McCliskie and Mr Campbell by not renewing their directorships.

She said it was a serious error of leadership by the board not to tell Mr Stewart of a list of serious allegations made by Ms Pullar at a meeting with ACC senior managers Philip Murch and Hans Verberne in December.

An ACC report of that meeting, given to Ms Collins three days after The Dominion Post exposed the privacy breach, said Ms Pullar threatened to go to the media and would withhold details of the breach unless she was given a guaranteed benefit.

But a tape recording Ms Pullar made at the meeting showed the allegations were false, as was the statement by ACC that no specific details on the breach were given to the managers.

The report to Ms Collins also said that, given the serious nature of the breach, the details should have been escalated to more senior ACC management but were not.

Inquiries by police and the auditor-general later showed that statement was also wrong, and that the two managers at the meeting informed two superior managers and the board secretary about it.

Ms Rebstock said yesterday that, if any allegations in the report to Ms Collins were incorrect, "we will correct it". The original report was still on ACC's website yesterday.

Ms Pullar said she was pleased the report had vindicated concerns she had been trying to raise for years, and she was heartened that Ms Collins said all its recommendations were accepted.

She said changes would provide better and fairer outcomes for everyone dealing with ACC.

Timeline: ACC privacy breach

Editorial: ACC incompetence no laughing matter

Contact http://tinyurl.com/DPT-phil-kitchin
Investigations editor
Email: phil.kitchin@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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