Recording at odds with ACC extortion allegations

Last updated 09:45 30/04/2012
Bronwyn Pullar
BRONWYN PULLAR: Was leaked the personal details of thousands of ACC claimants.

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A recording of a critical meeting between senior ACC managers and the whistleblower who exposed a massive privacy breach reveals the corporation misled its minister and the public.

The corporation has alleged that client Bronwyn Pullar threatened at the meeting to go to the media unless she was given a guaranteed two-year benefit.

It also alleged she said that she would withhold details of the breach involving the private details of 6500 other clients – including sexual abuse victims – if her demands were not met.

Once details of the privacy breach were revealed by The Dominion Post, the ACC referred its extortion allegations against Pullar to police.

However, a recording of a key meeting in December between Pullar, her support person Michelle Boag – a senior National Party figure – and two ACC managers is at odds with the corporation's claims that were included in a report ordered by ACC Minister Judith Collins.

The ACC was given a transcript of the meeting more than three weeks ago, but has refused to correct its report.

Pullar said it was outrageous that, having been provided with the recording, the corporation was refusing to correct a "blatant lie" on a public report.

Before publishing the report, the corporation did not ask Pullar or former National Party president Boag for their account of what was said at the meeting. ACC also complained to police about the alleged extortion threat before completing its report.

The report did not name Pullar or Boag. Their names were subsequently made public following a leak being investgated by the privacy commissioner's office.

The Dominion Post has heard the recording and had obtained an accurate transcript of it. It contradicts several key elements in the ACC report.

The transcript shows:

Neither Pullar nor Boag threatened to go to the media or withhold the data if Pullar was not given a guaranteed two years' compensation.

ACC's statement that it was not given specific details of the breach is misleading. ACC was told the data was "highly sensitive information", including names and details of 6500 claimants.

ACC was not told the data was sent by one of the managers. Boag said an ACC staff member sent it.

After the meeting, ACC said it tried to find the breach by checking all emails from the managers to Pullar but found nothing. After senior ACC staff, including chief executive Ralph Stewart, were given the opportunity to hear the recording, the corporation declined to withdraw its complaint to police.

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The corporation said Pullar and Ms Boag were not named in the report and it would not correct the allegation against Pullar.

But Pullar said that the allegation was a misuse of power and "an attempt to smear Michelle Boag's and my reputation".

"Had I not recorded this meeting, it would have been ACC's word against mine."

Prime Minister John Key conceded the recording appeared to show a "difference in opinion" between an Pullar and ACC.

Key this morning said he had not seen the Fairfax report but he had "loosely heard on the grapevine" that Pullar had a recording of the meeting and was not surprised it had been made public.

"Yes, there appears to be a difference of opinion," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

"Although as we know with recordings, that might not be the entire recording."

There were three investigations into the matter.

"They are very thorough investigations and I'm sure they will look at all of the information that is there."

ACC was told in writing by Pullar in 2010 that any discussions with ACC staff in person or on the phone would be recorded to protect her position and to compensate for impairments caused by a head injury she suffered in 2002.

"Sadly, many ACC clients record their meetings with ACC and its assessors to protect themselves against these underhand types of tactics.

"No claimant who chooses to go the media after exhausting alternative means to get ACC to take their issues of unlawful conduct and breaches of privacy seriously should have to tolerate this kind of harassment."

Media lawyer Steven Price said the tape was recorded legitimately because Pullar was a party to the conversation at the meeting.

Parties to a conversation cannot be guilty of illegally recording a conversation using an interception device.

When contacted yesterday for comment on the recording, an ACC spokesman said the corporation would not comment while an investigation by the privacy commissioner was under way.

The Minister for ACC Judith Collins is refusing to comment on the recording.

Through a spokeswoman, she said it would be inappropriate to comment while investigations were underway.

- The Dominion Post

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