Collins plans defamation action

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 14:24 29/03/2012
Judith Collins
ANDY JACKSON
ACC MINISTER: Judith Collins

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ACC Minister Judith Collins has sent letters to Radio New Zealand and Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little threatening defamation action over the ACC leaks row.

Collins refused this afternoon to say whether the taxpayer would pick up the bill for the defamation action which surrounds an email written by former National Party president Michelle Boag in relation to ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar.

The email was leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

Collins said today Radio New Zealand and the two Labour MPs had defamed her with allegations over the leak.

"I take my reputation very seriously. I have been 100 per cent certain there has been no leak from me or my office."

Asked who would be paying her legal bills, Collins repeatedly responded: "I have been today focused on complying with the Defamation Act and getting the letters to those who have defamed me and that has been my focus."

Collins said the defamation action was not something "I take lightly".

"Untrue and defamatory statements have been made about me and my conduct in relation to the handling of information I received concerning an ACC claimant.

"I have made myself extremely clear from the outset, that neither I, nor my office, has played any part in the release of the claimant's name to the media.

"The Privacy Commissioner is now investigating the issue, which is the right thing to do.

"I fully support the Privacy Commissioner and welcome her report on the matter," Collins said.

Earlier today, Little, who is Labour's ACC spokesman, said he did not know if he was one of the MPs targeted by Collins.

"I have only seen the minister's media statement, which does not constitute proceedings."

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff is investigating how Pullar's details were made public.

Labour had suggested in Parliament the leak came from Collins.

Collins has insisted neither she nor anyone in her office was responsible for the leak and said the email had only been forwarded to ACC board chairman John Judge and chief executive Ralph Stewart.

Both have told Collins they do not know who leaked the email and Boag has also denied responsibility.

Collins yesterday admitted she had printed out the email but maintained the leak had not come from her office.

She had already twice assured Prime Minister John Key she was not responsible after he sought guarantees.

Former ACC minister Nick Smith was forced to resign from the Cabinet last week in the fallout over a series of leaks involving Pullar after it emerged he had intervened in her case despite an apparent conflict of interest over their close friendship.

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Pullar's name was leaked after it was revealed she was inadvertent emailed details of 6700 ACC cases, including 250 sensitive sexual abuse claims.

INQUIRY TO LOOK AT MINISTER'S EMAILS

Collins said she was happy to open her computer records to scrutiny by the Privacy Commission as fallout over ACC leaks widened.

Shroff may use computer forensic techniques to try to discover how an email sent to Collins and a staff member in her office about Pullar ended up in the hands of the newspaper.

Asked yesterday if she had printed a copy of the email, Collins said: "There has been an email. The email was copied in my office, after, when we came back in to the office because we were in recess ..."

Asked if a photocopy of the email existed Collins said: "I don't know."

However, in a statement to Radio Live on Tuesday, Collins' press secretary said the minister had printed one copy of the email on March 19 for her own file, which was in her possession. The leak was reported in the media on March 18.

Collins' office would not confirm those details yesterday, saying that she had no further comment to make while the privacy commissioner investigated.

Speaking in Parliament, Little said the leaks "stink to high heaven".

"We're nowhere near the truth - there is a lot more to come out."

Little told Parliament that since Collins had said the email had been printed out in her office "the finger points to the minister".

He raised questions about the involvement of some National Party figures in the case.

"What is Simon Lusk's involvement and what is Cameron Slater's involvement? The links are too close, the relationships too dodgy. We are entitled to know and that's why a public inquiry is called for," Little said.

"I have no sympathy for the National Party and their apparatchiks and acolytes. They are donkey deep in something that is tarnishing the reputation of a great institution in New Zealand - the institution of ACC."

The organisation had been "tipped upside down to manage the fallout" from the case, which was delaying claims being processed, he said.

Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson said Labour was doing its job holding the Government to account.

"There are serious questions here to be answered about the trust and confidence in the Government and also about how information about a private individual made its way into the public arena.

"We will keep asking those questions."

Asked if it was an attempt to shut down debate on the issue, he replied "I can't get inside Ms Collins' head".

- The Dominion Post

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