Cronyism fails Collins, but no relief for ACC claimants

The Nats usually look after their own. Hey, they defended Bill English’s housing rort until it became politically indefensible, and he “voluntarily” surrendered his allowance as a purported out-of-Wellington MP.

So you would expect the Nats to be rushing to back up Judith Collins’ defamation suit against Radio NZ and two Labour MPs with some public money.  And all the speculation over the last few days is that they would.

Nek minnit, it is revealed Collins didn’t even apply to Cabinet for funding.

The Cabinet Manual requires that Ministers discuss public funding of legal action with the PM before approaching Cabinet.

My bet is that Key told Collins “no way”. And not out of some concern about public funding of what appears to be a private lawsuit, but because Collins is in the wrong Nat faction. She is ambitious, and she would like Key’s job, which Key would obviously like to keep, just for a little while at least, until he is assured of a significant place in history.

Then we have the backroom players: Michelle Boag and Bronwyn Pullar on Key’s side; and Cameron Slater and Simon Lusk on Collins’ side. And poor old Nick Smith gets caught in the crossfire for inappropriately taking sides.

It is a grand political game, worthy of the English landed gentry (anyone want their moat cleaned?)

But aren’t we forgetting some people here? While the various inquiries circle around which Minister or which ACC official may have done something wrong, no inquiry is being launched into the plight of the ACC claimants who have been wronged by the pernicious, and arguably unlawful, policies of ACC that are designed to deny them cover and entitlements.

While other parties close their ears and play the political games, only the Green Party considers the plight of wronged ACC claimants to also be a political issue.


Lest we forget the ACC claimants

There is a parallel story to the ACC scandal that has already cost Nick Smith his Ministerial career, and may well cost other Ministers or senior public servants theirs.  It is a story that no-one apart from Kevin Hague appears to be telling.

That is the story of how ACC claimants are being treated (or mistreated) by ACC. I am not necessarily convinced Bronwyn Pullar’s motivations are honourable, and they may well have much  to do with personal gain, rather than a genuine attempt to address how the system fails ACC claimants.

But as someone who has for many years assisted ACC claimants, including taking cases to review and appeal, I can verify that many of the concerns Pullar expresses in her list (published in the frogblog post from Kevin Hague I have linked to above) are genuine concerns about ACC practices and culture that require investigation.

A good number of them were raised in a report from an inquiry completed by Judge Peter Trapski as far back as 1994. But nothing has ever been done by successive Labour and National led Governments to address them, and the issues, as far as ACC claimants are concerned, fester on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for hounding out the National Party corruption and cronyism going on here, and for addressing what appears to be appalling information privacy practices by ACC.

But just as important is ensuring the very serious concerns about the way claimants are treated by ACC are addressed. Good on Kevin for focusing on that. I hope some MPs from other parties will follow his lead.


ACC Rally at Parliament

Tuesday saw a combined approach to the ACC Levy and legislation attack from National, by the unions and left-wing groups, as well as a large contingent of bike-riders, co-ordinated by the Kiwibiker organisation, who gathered at Parliament grounds around midday.
The CTU ran a spirited build-up to the rally, with a video on You-Tube, as well as campaign materials being collated by the ACC Futures Coalition here.

Green MP and Co-leader Metiria Turei spoke on the forecourt to the assembled protesters, and was followed by speakers from the NZ Counselling professional organisation, as well as Kiwibiker and some union representatives.

Minister for ACC, the Hon Nick Smith, was nowhere to be seen, despite entreaties from the crowd for his presence. Green MP’s Dave Clendon, Kevin Hague and Cath Delahunty stood up to support Meyt, along with a strong contingent of Labour MP’s, even including Opposition Leader Phil Goff for a while.

Union banners were fluttering all over the grounds, representing the NDU, PSA, CTU, EPMU, NZNO, RMTU, and were joined by banners from AWSM and the Worker’s Party. Green Party members and staffers carried pennants and made a brave showing amongst the black-clad bikers.

Green banners a-flutter

Green banners a-flutter

A Ministerial gaggle on the forecourt, the Hon Phil Goff heading off...

A Ministerial gaggle on the forecourt, the Hon Phil Goff heading off...

NZNO banners

NZNO banners

Unionist solidarity

Unionist solidarity

The Rally concluded with a serenade for the assembled protestors from Fatt Max, a Kiwibiker member, who had the crowd singing along to a chorus which suggested a probably anatomically impossible action for the Minister for ACC to accomplish with his new legislation.

Fatt Max from Kiwibiker

Fatt Max from Kiwibiker

Nick the prick

This is really just appallingly outrageous from ACC Minister Nick Smith.

“If my doctor told me that I was terminally ill and I had 30 days to live, with the ACC rules the way they are, I’d be finding myself a train to throw myself under on the 29th day because my family would be treated so much more generously,” he said.

Smith has subsequently (under orders from John Key, presumably) offered an apology. But this is a Minister out of control.

How can John Key have confidence for Smith to hold the ACC portfolio when Smith says that, if terminally ill, he would throw himself under a train to get his family ACC entitlements? This is Cabinet Minsiter admitting that he would himself rip off ACC.

The reality is that National is proposing to disallow any entitlement to the families of suicide victims – even though their mental state was so deranged that they had no rational perception of what was happening in reality when their lives ended.

That stinks, and is discriminatory in terms of the Bill of Rights Act (i.e discrimination on the grounds of disability).

If Smith’s vile Bill can eventually get the numbers to be introduced to Parliament (and frogblog and The Standard suggest there is a problem there), then I would hope Attorney-General Chris Finlayson will report, as is statutory duty, that it is in breach of the Bill of Rights Act.

But, given that he is a senior National Party Minister, who knows whether he will follow the path of integrity, or Nick Smith’s path of lies, obfuscation, and duplicity.

A challenge for Chris Finlayson, who is one of the few National MPs I still have much respect for.

The inconsistent Dr Smith

Nick Smith is both ACC Minister and Climate Change Minister.

Yesterday in Parliament he was asked a patsy question about ACC by National backbencher Michael Woodhouse:

Michael Woodhouse: What reports has the Minister seen on not fully funding accident compensation, and returning it to a “pay as you go” model?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The problem with “pay as you go” is that the costs of today’s accidents are passed on to future generations…

Okay, fair enough, you might say.

But his approach when it comes to climate change is somewhat different:

The Standard reports:

A newly released government paper shows that by 2050 government debt will be $54-$73 billion higher than it otherwise would be due to National’s subsidies for carbon polluters.

Make no mistake. National’s subsidy to polluters today will be paid for by our children and grandchildren in the decades to come.

I wonder which Nick Smith will front up in Parliament today.

I’m W(r)ong about almost everything

ACC Minister Nick Smith was conveniently absent for Parliament today when questions were raised by Green and Labour MPs about the proposed changed to ACC counselling for sexual abuse victims. So Associate Minister Pansy Wong was left to carry the can.

7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: How will the proposed changes to the treatment of sensitive claims meet the legal requirements of the ACC scheme to provide “for a fair and sustainable scheme for managing personal injury that has, as its overriding goals, minimising both the overall incidence of injury in the community, and the impact of injury on the community”?

Hon PANSY WONG (Acting Minister for ACC) : ACC’s proposed changes to the treatment guidelines for mental injury resulting from sexual abuse are based on a comprehensive 5-year programme of clinical research commissioned by the corporation. The Massey University school of psychology undertook this research with a team comprising 23 researchers and an advisory committee of 13 people. A multi-method approach was taken, utilising quantitative and qualitative analysis, literature reviews, questionnaires, and focus groups. The research team included specialists in survivor advocacy, psychology, counselling, education, migrant resettlement, indigenous issues, and the mental health of children and older people.

Well, that’s the only bit she got right. Pity, though, that she didn’t actually read the report from the Massey University School of Psychology.

Hon David Parker: Will the Minister release the medical and scientific evidence that the Minister has relied upon to conclude that the current clinical pathway for the treatment of victims of childhood sexual abuse is not satisfactory, and why were the professional bodies of the current treatment providers excluded from meaningful consultation?

Hon PANSY WONG: I am very pleased to table the report by Massey University commissioned by the corporation, Sexual Abuse and Mental Injury: Practice Guidelines for Aotearoa New Zealand. It was somehow totally forgotten and neglected by the previous Labour Government.

The Minister says nothing significant actually. The Massey University report (PDF 1.115 MB))was released in March 2008, and actually suggests increased flexibility because of the different victim responses of child v adult sexual abuse and the different victime responses of single instance of abuse to systematic abuse. It does not recommend restrictive regulation, as the Government is proposing – actually it would imply greater flexibility is required.

Sue Bradford: How does the Minister reconcile the proposal to impose an arbitrary cap on ACC funding for counselling for victims of sexual abuse with the statement by the Prime Minister in a recent speech to the Sensible Sentencing Trust that “where New Zealanders do become victims of crime, National will give them the support and respect they deserve.”?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, this is a new guideline. It has been proposed because it is not fair or right for victims to have one-size-fits-all treatment, so this proposed treatment takes into account tailored treatment for survivors whether they are women, men, children, adolescents, Māori, Pasifika, or ethnic.

But the proposed guidelines, unlike the former regime that relied on clinical judgment of the treatment provider, are a one-size fits all treatment regime, with a claimant being required to demonstrate exceptional circumstances – a very high test in law – to get extended counselling beyond the guideline norm.

Lynne Pillay: Can the Minister reassure childhood sexual abuse victims that the proposed ACC cuts will not detrimentally impact their quality of life; if so, how?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, all those have been taken into account because this Government is committed to improving the life of survivors and—

Hon Members: Rubbish!

Hon PANSY WONG: This is a very serious issue. The Opposition might feel agitated and not want to know the real reasons, but others might. According to this study, victims’ traumatic ordeals should be seen as a complex life experience and not as a disorder or life sentence. That is why the best-practice treatment is being implemented.

But best-practice treatment is not being implemented. This regime sets a limit of maximum 16 sessions of therapy, with “exceptional circumstaces being required to gain greater entitlement, That is not what the Massey University study recomended, other than for one-off instances of adult rape or sexual asault – see p.80 of report linked to above.

Sue Bradford: Why is the Government requiring victims of sexual abuse to see at least three different health professionals, and does the Minister think it is easy for victims to go over their traumatic experiences, over and over again, with strangers?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, the clinical research conducted by Massey University is not asking victims to relive their traumatic ordeals. This is tailor-made clinical treatment that takes into account each survivor’s personal circumstances.

The report isn’t, and the Associate Minister is correct in that regard. But she is obfuscating and lying. The Massey University report doesn’t recommend victims of sexual assault have to relate the experience to three different health professionals before cover and entitlements can begin. It is the proposed Government policy that does that.

UPDATE: There has been a partial backdown.

Dr Kevin Morris, said last night that the proposal would be modified in response to feedback before it comes into force on September 14.

“The provider/assessor split – we won’t be taking that because I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said.

“Individuals having to disclose to a number of different people – that has always been a problem in this area. We have no intention of trying to make it any worse than it is. We are quite keen to improve that.”

He said the agency also had no intention of removing a client’s right to choose their own therapist.

How embarrassing for the Associate Minister who denied only a few hours before that the original proposal would require disclosures to additional health professionals!

Whale Oil Beamer Lingerer

This one’s for Whale Oil, who hit the MSM headlines over the weekend:

Whale Oil (aka Cameron Slater) reveals in the Sunday Star-Times:

Slater found his after the collapse of the security systems company, of which he owned 49%, in 2004 amid rancour with his business partner. The failure ruined Slater financially he had to sell his second home to pay the IRD socially, and eventually, psychologically. The depression he had battled for years became disabling.

As a result, he is unable to work. Because he had income protection insurance, he now receives 75% of his former salary.

Okay, so Whale, you’ve been 5 years out of work. So why do you, and the lowlifes who comment on your comments thread, denigrate people who are unemployed?

Just because you had the good fortune to have income protection insurance doesn’t put you in any greater moral position than those who could not afford it and ended up on the dole or sickness benefit.

And maybe it is time, Whale, for you to be subjected to an independent audit of your entitlement, as the National Party proposes for all sickness beneficiaries. I’m sure your insurance company would welcome that, just as Work and Income does for beneficiaries.

You could even allow me – as someone who worked as an advocate for ACC claimants and beneficiaries for many years – to nominate an independent doctor. I know all the right ones to move you on quickly.

One of the Devonport Doctors (ex-Navy), perhaps?

Don’t take us all for mugs John

I was initially puzzled by the extent of John Key’s reaction to his discovery of a $297m shortfall in the ACC non-earner account.

Sure, it might have been worthy of a media release – after all $297m is not an insignificant amount of money. But in the context of ACC it is only 6% of the annual budget and 3% of accumulated reserves.

I agree with Key that the previous Government didn’t handle it very well when they first knew about it, but why the urgent press conference, why the Ministerial inquiry, and why the over-the-top rhetoric from Key like “significant and serious hole in the Government accounts” and “very large ticking time bomb”?

Then I read a post by Eddie at The Standard and it all started to make sense.

While the National Government may be popular at the moment, its policy to open the ACC earner’s account to foreign insurance companies is not popular – even the Employers and Manufacturers Association, who have in the past supported privatising ACC, no longer support it.

So what better than to depict ACC as a dysfunctional organisation to weaken the public opposition to their privatisation proposals.

Of course it’s all a beat-up. The shortfall is in the non-earner’s account, which is taxpayer funded, but what National wants to privatise is the earner’s account, which is funded through levies.

The two issues are in reality completely unrelated. Don’t take us all for mugs John – you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Who paid for this policy?

I wonder who paid for this policy which is curiously hidden on the National Party’s website with no link from the front page:

The National Party is committed to the principles of competition and choice as the appropriate means of ensuring efficiency of ACC provision…

Among the allegations of NZ First and United Future being involved in “policy for money” deals, I think it is important not to overlook the National Party.

According to Nicky Hager in The Hollow Men (p 246):

… a senior National Party figure provided details of various National Party funders and stated that the largest single election donation, believed to be well over $1million, had come from the Insurance Council and was given to National because the party was known to be intending, if elected, to privatise the Accident Compensation Commission (sic).

National’s policy, according to Hager, was announced after a series of meetings between senior National politicians and Steven Cosgrove and Ross Chapman of QBE Insurance and Insurance Council CEO Chris Ryan. I wonder what they were discussing, and whether the money followed the policy or the policy followed the money.

Of course the donation, if it did occur, remains hidden behind National’s shadowy Trusts.

Money for policy is about as corrupt as it gets, and Russel Norman is quite right to be calling for a Commission of Inquiry. But it should not be restricted just to the current allegations surrounding New Zealand First. The financial dealings of all parties should be opened up to scrutiny.

Meanwhile, New Zealanders have a clear choice on ACC – Keep it public and improve it, which the Greens support, or hand it over to Australian-owned insurance companies under National.

Beware the Accident Corporatisation Castration

Don’t have an accident if National leads the next government!

Now, I know that sems a weird thing to say, but you will need to be ultra-cautious if there is a National-led governemnt, becasue their policy will mean you will likely be declined ACC cover and either have to battle them through the courts or foot the treatment and rehabilitation bills yourself.

I say this as someone with considerable experience in this area. For much of the 1990s and the first three years of this decade I worked as an advocate for ACC claimants, representing them at reviews and District Court appeals.

Now ACC staff have, since the early 1990s, had the “my job is to save the Corporation money” ethic instilled into them. Hence there are lots of decisions that are wrong in law, although it has gradually improved over the last 8 years.

But from my experience of working as an ACC claimant advocate, the time accident compensation plumbed the depths of malfeasance was during the brief period 1999-2000 when the last National Government privatised workplace accident insurance.

There are two ways that private insurers can minimise cost and deliver a return to their shareholders. The first is to engage in injury prevention. That is expensive. The second is to deliberately and maliciously decline claims that are valid.

That is what the private insurers did in the 1999-2000 period, and I witnessed it first-hand as an advocate for claimants over that time. The private insurers work on the basis that ACC review and appeal soxts are so minimal that most lawyers and advocates won’t work on a contingency basis, however valid the claim. And the law is so complex that most claimants don’t have the expertise to represent themselves.

So the private insurers falsely and maliciously decline claims in the knowledge that most claimants will not have the resources to challenge the decisions.

If they wrongly decline 10 claims, and only two have the persistance or resources to challenge them legally, then that is a bloody good deal for the private insurers and their shareholders.

Steve Pierson has blogged about this here earlier today at The Standard. I think he is spot on, and I have the experience working in the area to give credibility to his claims.

If National lead the next government, be very, very afraid of having an accident.