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Howard's End: ACC - If It’s Broke, Fix It

If the Accident Compensation Corporation was a private company it would likely have no customers, MP's would be jumping up and down in the House over its behaviour and state-owned television, TV1, would be carrying programs on Fair Go, Holmes and Sunday slamming the organisation. Maree Howard writes.

First, it was claimant's bitterly complaining to Scoop about the way they are being treated by ACC.

Now, the Automobile Association and Federated Farmers are both angry with proposed increases in levies - and they look likely to be joined by members of the Fishing Industry.

On first look, the complaints about ACC may seem poles apart.

But, in reality, they are essentially the same - an organisation which is said to be a costly boondoggle, inept, inefficient, not providing the services the public pays for and which has gone berserk and being run with a mindset like the old Ministry of Works and Railways of the 60's.

Couple this with a Government who couldn't seem to care less and the fuse is lit for a revolution reminiscent of European and American farmers and industry blockading highways and ports in protest.

Fishers are now talking about steaming to the Port of Wellington and blockading it with a couple of hundred fishing boats following the coming tuna season.

And rumbles are starting in the farming industry with some farmers now talking about a tractor and truck convoy to block Wellington roads at the same time as the fishers block the port.

The picture will be complete when injured claimant's join that throng and voice their concerns and demand change.

So what has suddenly upset everyone?

The claimant's concerns about lack of lawful entitlements and disgraceful behaviour by ACC employees have been known for some months. They have bitterly complained that they are going without their lawful entitlements while ACC collects $2 billion each year from levy-payers and has $3.8 billion invested.

The Government, it is said, is using ACC as a guaranteed investment vehicle which buys Government securities therefore raising funds for other Government use.

This way taxes don't have to be raised which makes the Government look good but, nevertheless, the public is paying. And that's probably why the politicians are silent and not interested in changing the milch-cow ACC system - at the expense of injured people.

ACC has $1.1 billion invested in NZ Government Securities according to its 2002-2003 Accountability Documents. It has close to $1 billion dollars invested in overseas equities and securities, including Australia.

Another reason for public disquiet in ACC is that non-injured people are finally starting to realise - "There but for the grace of God go I" - and the picture doesn't look all that good. Many New Zealanders also have experience of ACC's practices through family, friends or relations.

ACC has now announced proposals to hike the fees motorist's pay by 22% by either increased registration costs or a hike in petrol taxes. This has caused the Automobile Association to seriously question how long ACC costs will keep escalating and whether ACC has its costs firmly under control.

Scoop has carried recent stories about ACC where Injured claimants, who are actually using the scheme, say that ACC is a huge waster of levy-payers money - and they are still not getting the entitlements they are due.

Federated Farmers are also angry that ACC has proposed a further 5-8% increase for the wages paid to their employees and a huge 30-35% increase in levies for the self-employed.

This follows a 15% increase on employees and a 35-40% increase for the self-employed this year.

Last year ACC blamed the levy increases on farmer injury rates, an allegation which was subsequently proved to be incorrect.

Fisher's have told Scoop that they pay 16% of their income in ACC levies but when it comes time to get help for injuries they are given the run-around, lied to, denied and provoked by ACC staff. They say they put their lives on the line in harsh weather at sea to build export dollars for the country and then they "get shafted."

ACC plans to spend $243 million this year on vocational rehabilitation but only $33 million on social rehabilitation like home help, modifications to home and vehicles, aids and appliances, child care, attendant care, education support, and training.

Claimant's say this is a clear and deliberate intent to shortchange them, and the public who pays for these things, by denial and shortcuts mostly by not telling them about the assistance available even though ACC collects annual revenue of $2 billion from the public.

The first thing which needs to happen, long-term claimant's say, is to ask why they are long-term. In almost every case the blame can be sheeted home to ACC's past practices of denial, ineptitude and incompetence, they say.

They and their families, however, are not going to carry the burden for the position they now find themselves in - and nor should they be expected to.

What has really angered them now, is that ACC Corporate documents refer to them as "stock."

And what's more, they say, the Minister has signed a specific agreement with ACC to reduce (dump) 1,500 of them from the scheme this year - no matter what their injury, disabilities or circumstances.

And then the politicians wonder why the invalid and sickness benefit figures are so high. It's a typical Alice in Wonderland scenario with politicians living in cuckoo-land

Scoop has also been told by lawyers that such an agreement which targets a specific class of people without clear authority from Parliament is unlawful and looks set to be challenged. They say it is reminiscent with "exiting" people like political dissidents and homosexuals under the early Nazi Germany regime.

So, what incentive is there for ACC to change? Well, none!

It has a Government in charge who couldn't seem to care less about people's legitimate concerns.

It has a complaint's office which claimants say is toothless, useless and should be disbanded because it cannot provide an effective remedy. Likewise, they say the Ombudsman's Office is toothless for anything but very minor matters and a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner seems to take months for an outcome.

They also say that ACC has an internal arrogance, attitude, mindset and a pattern of perversity which has departed from reality, at least on this planet.

And why would ACC need to alter its behaviour when the so-called independent review process of its decisions is run by a company, Dispute Resolution Services Ltd, which ACC itself owns and profits are returned to ACC as the shareholder.

That cabal needs to be broken-up and that decision review function put out to tender. As it stands, it is a merry-go-round of journal accounting and justice is in no way seen to be done.

Scoop has said before that the ACC scheme in principle is good and that costs can be contained while full and proper services are provided to injured New Zealander's. And yes, even under that scenario it could make a profit.

It will, however, take a major change starting by way of a sweep of personnel from the top level of management. That is the one and only way to restore lost credibility and lost public confidence.

And if you don't believe that, then ask the injured people at the bottom for their help because they find it necessary, and have no choice, but to use ACC everyday - that's if the Government and the Minister is genuine and serious about these latest concerns.

More ACC propaganda will no longer work - the wheel of the wagon is broke. A patch here and there won't fix it - we need a new wheel.

ENDS

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