OPINION: The Government must have hoped that the official investigations into the ACC would staunch the wounds inflicted by Bronwyn Pullar's sharp thrusts.
She was fervent in her accusations of mistreatment by the corporation but she might have been a lone victim of incompetence, and the release of sensitive material to her might have been shown to be the result of a single key-stroke error. Instead, the investigations give the Government another set of problems and bring its four- year administration of ACC into question.
The reports do not much clarify the credibility of Pullar's grievances but do delineate a web of much more important associated problems.
They form a comprehensive bill of indictment of ACC's governance and administration - a board ignorant of the real state of the business it was charged with overseeing, a climate of fear among staff, systems unable to maintain the privacy of clients, privileged handling of the case of one of the Government's friends and staff cavalier in their treatment of other clients.
Moreover, Marie Shroff, the Privacy Commissioner, suggests that privacy-protection systems are weak throughout the civil service and that the releases of material to Pullar was not unusually large in terms of its volume of data.
The Government, in the form of Judith Collins, the ACC Minister, is presenting a busy show of picking up the fractured pieces. In her best school- marm fashion, Collins has set out to ensure her board and corporation mend their ways but pursed lips and furrowed brow will not be enough. What is needed is detailed supervision of the corporation as it struggles to reform.
Collins has made a good start by replacing the board that presided over such disarray and is looking for a new chief executive. She also is accepting of the need to improve the protection of sensitive client material and end the culture of fear. Whether she will succeed, though, is uncertain.
Collins' appointment of Paula Rebstock as ACC chairman is not necessarily encouraging. Rebstock is experienced in business but she is one of the Government's go-to people - not a sure sign of the wide understanding needed in this case. Her chairmanship of the investigation into welfare suggests she is focused on costs rather than quality of services, and that disposition is the main cause of the ACC's problems.
Nick Smith's bungled term as ACC minister began with his over-stocked assertions that the corporation was facing bankruptcy and its costs must therefore be rigorously curtailed. To do so he dismissed a board broadly representative of the groups with interests in accident compensation and replaced it with people focused on cost-cutting.
Its face was John Judge, much touted by Smith but now shown to have not acted on Pullar's allegations of illegality and fraud. One of his fellow board members, John McCliskie, acted but in an unprofessional way. He arranged for senior ACC managers to attend on his former associate, Pullar, to hear her grievances. Smith's associated activities are well known and properly led to his resignation as minister.
Collins seems a cooler head than Smith but that does not mean she will avoid his mistake of appointing a narrowly focused board. If she is to get the culture she seeks she needs appointees who have business nous and others who know what the business of ACC is.
Confidence in Collins getting it right would be justified had she spelt out what her ideal culture is, but the vision is lacking. She seems intent on punishing wrong-doers and improving processes rather than insisting that ACC exists to provide injury cover, not to treat the injured as nuisances.
If Collins does not reposition ACC, she will not avoid trouble, which is unavoidable if the staff's main obligation is to cut costs. She will also meet political opposition from an electorate that has ACC as the only resource to turn to when injured. The mean treatment people have received from ACC in recent years has produced widespread resentment that will entangle the Government if not assuaged.
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