ACC running true to form

Last updated 05:00 22/04/2014

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OPINION: Editorial: The people who put the ACC in accusative, inaccurate, unaccountable and unacceptable are at it again.

One of the most chronic privacy breachers and bullies of all Government agencies, the Accident Compensation Corporation, has once again sent a client someone else's deeply personal information and then reacted sourly to its own sloppiness.

The recipient, Gore man Gordon Haugh, sat uneasily on the information for a couple of months, then went to his lawyer, ACC specialist Peter Sara, upon whose advice he went public.

The corporation showed no interest in apologising, nor in recovering the information itself, but stonily instructed Haugh that it had to be destroyed in front of the Dunedin-based Sara. Immediately.

Some readers might have considered it odd that Haugh had kept the material in a locked briefcase for two months, then went to his lawyer rather than the corporation, and then decided to drive to Dunedin at his own expense rather than simply mail or courier the information.

But who could blame him for having a vivid sense of how things might go wrong? The question is not rhetorical. The ACC has built up an ugly, quite fearsome reputation for throwing blame at others and making its own mistakes someone else's problem.

Most notoriously, the Bronwyn Pullar scandal.

She received details of 9000 claimants. When she went public with embarrassing details of how indolent the corporation had been in recovering the information, it wrongly accused her of earlier having tried to use the material as blackmail to demand two further years on the benefit. Tape recordings of the contested conversation vindicated her and exposed the corporation's mendacity.

A police investigation disclosed no offence on her part.

Since then, of course, we had all those assurances of a new, more respectful and efficient culture, including ACC Minister Judith Collins announcing in 2012 she wanted the state insurer to start sacking staff who breached a new "zero tolerance" policy on privacy breaches. So imagine the welcome if you're the person fronting up at the office with an example of exactly that.

On top of which, Haugh, a paraplegic since 2008, must also have been aware of the widespread reports of ACC bullying under a system that rewards staff who shepherd clients off the books, and hasn't been above using tame doctors like the utterly discredited Dr Laurie Gluckman, whom Judge Peter Trapski once formally described as a "hitman" called to write reports that staff needed to decline compensation.

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And then, just days ago, Judge Grant Powell found the ACC had no legal right to back up its policy of cutting benefits to clients who didn't sign privacy waiver forms that went far too deeply into people's private lives.

The corporation is, strictly speaking, entitled to say Haugh should have acted more quickly upon receiving the information. But the considerable stress he felt was entirely understandable, and when he did act it was with an appropriate abundance of caution.

Once again the ACC stands revealed as having made a mess and being disinclined to tidy up after itself.

Behaviour like this only strengthens the impression that its approach is one that constricts and repels its own clients. It has become an organisation with a discomfortingly self-loathing approach to what should be its honourable role in our society.

 

- The Southland Times

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