Editorial: ACC's culture change

Last updated 09:09 15/06/2012

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OPINION: The uproar over the spat between Bronwyn Pullar and the ACC has claimed (so far) the jobs of the former minister in charge of the ACC, the chairman of the board, two other board members and the chief executive.

Political opponents and other adversaries of the ACC are using the row to call for a vague "change of culture" at the ACC.

The current minister in charge of the organisation, Judith Collins, has also spoken of a "change of culture", without being any more specific. It is unlikely that the minister and ACC's foes are talking of the same thing.

Some change at the ACC is plainly necessary. The row between Pullar and the organisation intensified when ACC accidentally sent her an email that included files containing confidential information about many other ACC clients.

It has since emerged that such inadvertent disclosure of private information has occurred on a number of occasions.

Given the amount of highly sensitive information the ACC holds about individuals, it seems extraordinary that, so many years after email became the most common means of communication, the organisation still cannot manage it without this kind of blunder.

Other government entities that hold confidential private information - the Inland Revenue Department and Work and Income, for instance - seem to be able to do so.

Some comments made in messages between ACC personnel handling Pullar's case have also emerged that indicate a kind of cavalier dismissiveness towards her.

These remarks have understandably been seized on as reflecting ACC's general attitude towards its claimants.

There is no evidence that this is true but even if the comments are not at all widespread, they are deeply unprofessional and should not be tolerated.

Cases may be more or less difficult but no-one within ACC should think it is acceptable to deal with or write about any client with anything less than complete respect.

The question of whether ACC has sufficiently robust protocols to deal with conflicts of interest is still being investigated by the Auditor-General.

The former minister, Nick Smith, lost his job for failing to follow Cabinet rules on conflicts of interest.

There have been reports that the well-connected Pullar sought to involve a board member in her case, potentially making it more problematic for ACC managers.

It is vital for confidence in ACC that no claimant should get anything that might be seen to be privileged treatment.

It is unfortunate that John Judge, the chairman, and Ralph Stewart, the chief executive, have been casualties of the row.

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Both are highly regarded managers. When he took over the ACC portfolio, Smith said that the organisation's finances were in a dire state and he appointed Judge to fix them.

Whatever other shortcomings might have occurred during his chairmanship, Judge has done that. ACC's net deficit last financial year was reduced from $10.3 billion to $6.7 billion and it is on target to meet its legal obligation to be fully funded by 2019.

Financial viability is crucial if ACC is to survive as a no- fault accident compensation system and meet its obligations to claimants.

It must be run as a sound business. It is right, for instance, that claims are examined rigorously so that they may be dealt with fairly.

Any "change of culture" that would turn ACC into some sort of soft-hearted arm of the social-welfare industry, as some critics appear to imply, would be a backward step.

- The Press

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