ACC needs to answer questions, Key admits

DANYA LEVY AND PHIL KITCHIN
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2012

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Prime Minister John Key says "valid questions" need to be answered over apparently misleading comments by ACC executives about whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar.

Opposition parties are calling on ACC Minister Judith Collins to sack chairman John Judge and chief executive Ralph Stewart.

It comes amid growing controversy over the corporation's complaint to police that Ms Pullar had tried to extort compensation after she was inadvertently emailed the private details of more than 6500 claimants.

Police announced last week they would not be taking action because no offence was committed at a meeting between Ms Pullar, her supporter and former National Party president Michelle Boag, and two senior ACC managers.

Ms Pullar, who has been an ACC claimant since suffering a head injury in a cycling accident in 2002, recorded the meeting and provided police with a copy of the tape.

Mr Judge and Mr Stewart last week stood by their decision to go to police and said that, despite requests, police had not provided them with a copy of the recording.

But on April 30, The Dominion Post revealed that senior ACC staff, including Mr Stewart, had been played the tape.

And on TV3's 60 Minutes on Sunday night, Ms Pullar said her lawyer had played Mr Stewart the recording which featured the senior managers, not Ms Pullar, saying they wanted the email back if her claim was resolved.

Yesterday, Mr Key said questions about Mr Judge's and Mr Stewart's future were a matter for the minister but were still the subject of investigations by the auditor-general and the privacy commissioner.

However, he conceded there were "valid questions" which needed to be directed to ACC.

"There's some genuine questions that would need to be answered about the rationale for the statements that were made by executives at ACC."

Ms Pullar last night said Mr Key was correct to say Mr Judge and Mr Stewart needed to respond to questions about ACC.

They should resign if they could not provide hard proof to back the extortion allegations.

If Ms Collins failed to take action she would be condoning ACC management making allegations of serious criminal wrongdoing that the police had ruled out as false.

Ms Pullar said ACC had so far refused to provide copies of its manager's notes from the meeting and she had already asked police for copies of statements the managers made to police before ACC was told the recording existed.

"The fact is that when we let Mr Stewart and Mr Judge's secretary hear the recording and we gave them a transcript to read, if they truly believed I made extortion threats they would have immediately alerted police because it would have helped them.

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"But they didn't. Instead they sat on that information for 10 days and police only found out about the tape when they read about it in The Dominion Post before we gave the tape to police."

Greens ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said it was clear the account of Mr Judge and Mr Stewart to the public was "essentially false". "It is at the very least misleading."

The decision to stand by the complaint raised "serious questions about integrity at the most senior levels at ACC", he said. "It's very clear to me that Mr Judge has to go."

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little said a report from ACC to Ms Collins about the police complaint was "clearly wrong".

"It isn't credible for ACC's chairman and CEO to say otherwise. The minister has to take action so we can be assured she values accurate advice from the corporation."

Ms Collins said yesterday it was essential that New Zealanders were able to trust ACC.

"A high priority for ACC is to promote and rebuild the trust and confidence the public can rightly expect to have in the corporation."

Privacy and information security were the biggest challenges facing ACC, she said.

"At this stage, I am not yet satisfied ACC's privacy provisions and protocols are appropriate, or are being complied with to the level they should be."

The ongoing saga involving Ms Pullar led to the resignation of Cabinet minister Nick Smith, who was a friend, and wrote the corporation a letter of support for her claim on ministerial letterhead while ACC minister.

Ms Collins is also personally embroiled after she sued Mr Little and fellow Labour MP Trevor Mallard for defamation after she claimed they made comments linking her to the leaking of Ms Pullar's name.

A spokeswoman for ACC said the corporation would not be commenting on Ms Pullar's claims.

Mr Stewart has been the chief executive of ACC only since September last year.

- The Dominion Post

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