ACC saga: Opposition divided over Collins' future

ANDREA VANCE AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 15:40 13/06/2012
collins
JUDITH COLLINS: Labour is calling for her to be sacked.
Ralph Stewart
RALPH STEWART: Resigned as ACC chief executive.

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Parliament is in urgent debate following the resignation of ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart today.

Labour MP Andrew Little requested the debate and it was agreed by deputy Speaker Eric Roy.

Little said the current condition of ACC was "disgraceful" and people were leaving like rats from a sinking ship.

He called for ACC Minister Judith Collins step down, saying the corporation needs a minister who could be focused.

"We need a minister that looks after ACC," he said.

Stewart quit this morning following a boardroom cleanout which has claimed chair John Judge, deputy John McCliskie and another director Rob Campbell.

Mounting pressure on the state insurer over the Bronwyn Pullar affair has resulted in the resignations.

Police last week decided not to prosecute Pullar following a complaint from ACC that she had tried to blackmail senior managers over the accidental release to her of the private details of more than 6500 claimants.

Judge and Stewart stood by their decision to go to the police, but Pullar has always rejected the claim.

Little today said Prime Minister John Key needed to sack Collins and bring in someone new to sort out ACC.

"I don't think John Judge, other board members and, for that matter, Ralph Stewart going - that alone is not going to change things.

"They did what their political masters asked them to do and their political master needs to change."

Little, who along with fellow Labour MP Trevor Mallard is being sued by Collins for defamation, said she had taken her eye off the ball.

The Pullar saga was "the deepest crisis ACC has been in in its 38 years".

"John Judge and that board were put in place to do a job that the government instructed them to do, they've done it. It's all turned turtle on them. Now they are in crisis."

However, Green party MP Kevin Hague said Collins must stay on the job.

The "sick entitlement culture" in the House was the "big picture issue."

"The minister who presided over that, Nick Smith; the hatchet man that he appointed, John Judge; and now Ralph Stewart - [their departures] were necessary steps to begin the process of refreshing the organisation.

"Now, in terms of Collins' culpability around that - she wasn't the minister that required all those changes. She has actually dealt to Judge, although I would have preferred a more explicit sacking.

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"She's clearly said ACC's privacy sackings are unacceptable and must change and that's actually a pretty good start. She may be the minister to do all this."

However, he said she had questions to answer over the Bronwyn Pullar affair. "If she has acted improperly in the Pullar case, then she's got to be answerable for that."

'INCREDIBLY HARD DECISION'

Stewart said the events of recent days and the other resignations "has brought me to the point where I have decided to step down as CEO".

"This has been an incredibly hard decision to take and one that I have considered very carefully," he said.

He said staff should "keep faith" with the plan to reform the corporation, "which I know is supported by the minister and has been supported by the board for many years".

Stewart had only held the post since September 19. He had 27 years experience in the insurance industry - seven years as CEO of Axa New Zealand.

Stewart told Collins yesterday that "he felt that it was time for him to move on."

Collins stressed Stewart did not report directly to her - but to the ACC board.

"Actually, I feel quite sorry for Mr Stewart, he's had a tough time," she said. "He felt it was time to move on."

Collins said it is important for the direction of ACC "that the board shares my vision about where I'd like ACC to be."

She said Stewart and Judge had her backing in going to the police. "If they hadn't done that I think they would have been possibly accused of not taking action to protect people's files and privacy."

It was also "too early" for an apology to Pullar and Boag. "I don't think it's appropriate, not when we've got the auditor-general's report and the privacy commissioners. If they say Ms Pullar and Ms Boag were wrongly done by then that's another matter."

She refused to say why the terms of McCliskie and Campbell were not extended. "It's not fair."

She added: "I'm trying to put together a board that will be able to best meet the needs of the change of culture that I expect in ACC.

"I've got to make the best choices I can."

CALL FOR FORUM TO RESTORE TRUST

Pressure group ACC Futures Coalition was not calling for the minister's head - but wants a forum on the future of the state insurer.

Spokesperson Hazel Armstrong said the group was "deeply concerned about the loss of trust in ACC."

The group today called on Collins to set up a forum on the future of ACC involving all the stakeholders, including claimant groups, health provider groups and unions, as well as business interests.

"It appears to us that it is only business interests and levy payers that have any influence at the moment and that needs to be rectified," she said.

"The ACC Futures Coalition does not agree that the minister needs to resign. We think she inherited a situation from Nick Smith and she is working with a bad hand to try and rectify things."

She said Collins has refused to meet with her group.

Government enforcer Paula Rebstock has been brought in to chair the board until a replacement is found.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

* Bronwyn Pullar anonymously blew the whistle in March after ACC inadvertently emailed her the names and details of thousands of clients, including about 250 of its most sensitive claims

* Her name was leaked to a Sunday newspaper along with an email from her "supporter", former National party president Michelle Boag

* ACC laid a complaint with police accusing her of threatening to go public about being mistakenly sent confidential client details

* Boag supported Pullar's recollection that no threats were made in the December 2011 meeting

* It then emerged former ACC minister Nick Smith wrote a reference - on ministerial stationary - for Pullar in July last year, for her to use in her medical assessment for a claim she had lodged with ACC. He resigned.

* The Privacy Commission agreed to investigate the leak of Boag's email

* Labour MPs Andrew Little and Trevor Mallard made allegations about the leak inside and outside of Parliament

* ACC Minister Judith Collins claimed Little and Mallard defamed her, and she asked for an apology

* The Labour MPs refused to apologise after receiving three letters from Collins' law firm Morrison Kent

* Collins filed a claim in the High Court at Auckland against Little and Mallard for defamation

* An ACC report - made public on Collins' instructions - said Pullar threatened to go public about the leaked details

* A tape recording of the December 2011 meeting made by Pullar showed ACC had misled Collins and the public in its report

* Police announced they dropped their inquiry into extortion allegations made against Puller by ACC

* ACC continued to defend its decision to refer Pullar to police, and said despite requests, police had not provided them with a copy of the recording

* Pullar appeared on TV3's 60 Minutes saying her lawyer had played Stewart the recording which featured the senior managers, not Pullar, saying they wanted the mail back if her claim was resolved

* Opposition parties called on Collins to sack chairman John Judge and chief executive Ralph Stewart

*Prime Minister John Key said "valid questions" needed to be answered over apparently misleading comments by ACC executives about Pullar

* Collins announced John Judge would leave ACC. Deputy John McCliskie and director Rob Campbell's contracts would also not be renewed

* ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart quits

- Stuff

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