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.


Copenhagen Comments #3

Last night we had an honest 6 inches of snow here in Copenhagen, turning the city into a picture postcard. Most of it is still around this morning, and it is with great amusement that I watch the tens of thousands of bicycle commuters wend their way through the snowy streets.

All NGO observers but a lucky thousand have been kicked out of the Bella Centre at COP15. Many are annoyed that the stalls they have rented and the side events that they have prepared for and scheduled for months have been cancelled – there is no one to come to them. The Bella Centre is one big ministerial morass.

I cannot be sure, but I don’t think that Labour’s Charles Chauvel ever managed to enter the building. I know he stood in the freezing, outdoor registration line for 10 hours on Monday, only to have the desk close before he got to it. We haven’t heard from him since. This is a common story, even for people who registered to attend over a year ago. Fingers are pointing all around as to how 45,000 people were allowed to register for a venue that only holds 15,000. In this regard, it’s a shambles.

One also has to wonder about the Labour Party’s commitment to climate change issues, when their spokesperson had to make his way to Copenhagen privately (and good on him) and doesn’t manage to get in the door. Surely a commited opposition would make a commitment to front up to the biggest issue facing humanity. Oh, right. The Greens have done just that. 😉

One of the quiet successes at the negotiations has been accomplished by the various NGOs working on REDD. (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.) Earlier this year, the European Union sabotaged the treaty text, taking indigenous people’s rights out and making the treaty one big party for logging companies. The REDD NGO’s have managed to restore the text almost to it’s original state. We’ll see if it survives the scrutiny of the Ministers. One can only hope.

The shame of the conference this week was our very own Minister Groser’s outburst. He called the Tuvalu chief negotiator an ‘extremist’ and obstructive of the negotiations for wanting a legally binding agreement at Copenhagen! He also called the United Nations process all sorts of names. This is not diplomatic or Ministerial behaviour in anyone’s book.

Oxfam has just accused Minister Nick Smith of trying to redefine the word ‘fair’.

For some more in depth comments on the goings on here in Copenhagen, hop on over to frogblog and check out what Jeanette Fitzsimons and Kennedy Graham have to say. Kennedy’s musings are a hoot!

It’s going to be an interesting couple of days!

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.

Who paid for what, Nick?

Nick Smith, following Bill English’s example, has apparently gone apoplectic about a media report concerning his Parliamentary expenses.

Eddie at The Standard rightly complains about Smith’s behaviour towards the media. But there may be more to the story than that.

Nick Smith claims:

I had to spend $152,000 to make it usable…

re his electorate office.

I don’t dispute that. But who paid the $152,000? Was it Smith personally? Or was at least some of it from a different Parliamentary budget from the one that pays for electorate office rents?

You see, each MP gets an annual allocation as an “expense allowance” (PDF, bottom of page 5) of $14,800 a year – I think it was somewhat less when Smith bought his Nelson office.

Now, that’s not a huge amount of money. But it can be used, and is used, for modifications and fitouts of electorate offices. And if there is capital expenditure charged against the allowance, only the depreciation will be charged in any given year.

So charge the cost of the fitout, improvements and chattel purchase on Nick Smith’s electorate office against that allowance, over the 13 years since he bought it, and it is possible it could all have been paid for almost entirely by a Parliamentary budget, rather than by Smith himself.

I’m not suggesting he did this – just that he could have done it.

Which surely has to be an argument for greater transparency re MPs’ expenses.

Nick Smith could take a lead in transparency re Parliamentary expenses here. He could front up and declare what he personally paid for, and what was paid by the various Parliamentary service budgets, for the electorate office he owns.

What are the chances he will?

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!

You can’t have it both ways Bill

The regular Parliamentary Register of Percuniary Interests was published in January of this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English’s pecuniary interests were declared in that register as:

Hon Bill ENGLISH (National, Clutha-Southland)
1. Company directorships and controlling interests
Resolution Farms Limited – farming

6. Real property
Family home, Dipton
Farm, Dipton

But earlier this week the first ever MP’s expenses register was published. It revealed, in relation to Bill English and a property in Karori, Wellington, that he was claiming from the Government almost $1000 a week expenses to live in:

A search of the title by the Dominion Post showed the Karori home was bought by Mr English and his wife, Mary, for $800,000 in 2003. However, in March this year the title was transferred to Mrs English alone.

A spokesman for Mr English said the home, now worth an estimated $1.2 million, was always owned by a family trust.

They show he claimed $23,763 for Wellington accommodation costs in the first six months of the year for living in the Karori house.

A spokesman for Mr English told the newspaper the ownership of the house had remained with a family trust.

The transfer of title in March was caused by “changes in the trustee arrangements for personal and family reasons”.

Okay, so a couple of questions:

    Question 1: Why does the home in Karori, which was in the joint title of Bill and Mary English from 2003 until March of this year, not appear in Bill English’s register of pecuniary interests published in January of this year?

    Question 2: Is it lawful, and if so, is it ethical, for a Minister to claim almost $1000 a week to live in a house in Wellington that is owned by his wife, who also works as a medical practitioner in Wellington, together with the younger of his kids, who also live and go to school in Wellington.

English is the MP for Clutha Southland. As the Register of Pecuniary Interests reveals, he owns property there, but I understand it is or was either leased or rented out. So where does he stay when he is in his electorate overnight on constituency matters. In a motel or hotel perhaps, with the costs of that being charged back too.

Do I see another Ministerial resignation coming on?

Pity for me personally if it is English, because I have a bet with someone that Nick Smith will be the next to go (and Paula Bennett must already be on shakey ground too).

An election promise I’d love to see them to break

Both David Farrar at Kiwiblog and Steve Pierson at The Standard have blogged on the Sunday Star-Times article on National’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, taking, as expected, somewhat different lines on it.

I’m not sure either of them have quite seen the significance of what Nick Smith is reported by the SS-T as saying:

Expect radical changes to planning processes, Smith said, but without changing the environmental purposes of the act. There had been concern among environmental groups that National was going to change those and bring a “stronger development flavour” into the act. It was not doing so.

Now, that’s not (as Steve Pierson suggests) just staying silent – it is Nick Smith saying something that directly contradicts National’s policy going into the election. That policy reads:

The definition of environment is too broad, which allows costly and time-consuming arguments over irrelevant issues. … National will simplify the Act by limiting the definition of environment to natural and physical resources…

David Farrar, for his part, conveniently ignores the National pre-election policy and quotes Smith’s “no change to the environmental purposes” from the S S-T article.

Don’t get me wrong, this was one of the key policies that made the Greens decide they could not support a National-led Government on confidence and supply, so I’d love to see them backtrack from their pre-election position.

But come on David and Steve, let’s try to dig a little deeper here. The question that needs to be being asked is which course of action will National be following – that outlined in its policy pre-election, or that announced by Smith in the S S-T article?

Either way, when the Bill is introduced and we see what the Government actually proposes to do, Nick Smith will have some questions to answer.