Dumped ACC Claimants Must Be Reinst
While the Transport Select-Committee deliberates about whether to hold an inquiry into ACC, the Minister should order that all claimants who have been dumped on the subjective whim of an ACC case manager be immediately reinstated. Trouble is, the ACC Minister seems to have no power at all to direct ACC to do anything. Maree Howard writes.
Scoop was speaking to two specialist lawyers yesterday about the select-committee inquiry into ACC. It appears the only power the Minister, Ruth Dyson, has over ACC is to give it Government policy directions by way of publishing it in the Gazette and presenting a copy to Parliament and, once a year, enter into an agreement with ACC concerning the quantity and quality of the services to be provided or purchased.
Apart from that, it appears the Minister is toothless and ACC can simply thumb its nose at Ministerial requests for action about anything, it it doesn't suit them.
This came as a huge shock to Scoop because, like most of the public it seems, we thought the Minister of an elected Government could at least say to ACC "Get it right or else"
Not so, it appears.
So, how do we fix this and, more importantly, how did it come about that a Minister can essentially be told to take a hike. At least we now all know why any letter of concern to the Minister is passed on to the ACC Ministerial Services department for reply - apparently she is toothless.
It would seem that all this started under the National Government. They wanted to privatise ACC so the first step was to put it at arms length from the Government. This also had the bonus of allowing Minister's to say they had no responsibility for operational decisions made by ACC - National Minister's were fond of saying this sort of thing in relation to SOE's.
Of course, this was not how the people saw things. They expected the Government to run ACC based on the Woodhouse Report and after giving up their valuable right to sue in exchange for weekly compensation and proper rehabilitation if they had an accident and were injured.
The "quick and dirty review" of ACC back in 1992 was when the rot first set in.
Actually, the solution to fix it is simple legislatively, if unpalatable politically.
Simply legislate by establishing ACC as a Ministerial Department with a chief executive directly accountable to an elected Minister. The ACC board can still advise where to invest the money - ethically, of course, and in keeping with ACC injury prevention, compensation and rehabilitation programmes.
Look at WINZ for an example of a strong Minister establishing some control, at least, over a formerly rogue public entity. The changes have been dramatic. Similarly for the IRD.
Scoop readers tell me it's now a pleasure to deal with them both. Sure, there are still glitches at WINZ and IRD, but it's not systemic.
ACC glitches and bad employee behaviour, however, seriously effects injured people's physical and mental well-being to a massive and on-going degree. And that is intolerable and simply unacceptable.
ACC as a Department of State would mean that all of ACC's current share investments in liquor companies would be cashed-up with the money put towards far more ethical uses rather than part of the annual $2.2 billion of public money raised for injury and accident purposes being invested in booze and other companies.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against booze ( I quite like the stuff) but it hardly seems to be ethically or morally in the public interest for an Accident Compensation Corporation to be making that kind of share investment while victims of motor and other accidents are going without - and rest assured they are - often on the whim of an ACC branch or case manager.
And on that very point!
Following the recent column "Nonsense Follows Nonsense At ACC" this disgusting little comment, said to have been written by an ACC Branch Manager last year, was sent to Scoop by a concerned claimant:
"Helen, for your info, entertainment or whatever, I wonder if she would like a holiday in Iraq? Regards Rob."
This claimant, one of many who have provided horrifying stories about ACC employee behaviour to Scoop, was walking on a pedestrian crossing and was hit by a drunk driver with three previous convictions.
She remains significantly affected with brain damage and is now further distressed after seeing this comment about her. Her lawyer now has the comment allegedly made in the ACC Branch Manager's own hand-writing which has been compared with other writings he has made. Another brain-damaged accident victim in her area is apparently living in a house bus after losing his home because of his accident and the way he was dumped by ACC.
Scoop immediately sent this story to MP Dr Paul Hutchison in Parliament requesting that it be placed before the Select-Committee meeting held yesterday and asking for its comment and response. Scoop is really looking forward to the select-committee's comments about this.
In a letter earlier this week ACC CEO Garry Wilson chided this Scoop columnist for the "inaccuracy and wrongness" of some of the statements that had been written.
Scoop reminded Mr Wilson of the old media saying: " If you are on target you'll get flak."
It's clear, to me at least, that Mr Wilson has no savvy when it comes to dealing with the media who have the "in the public interest" bit between its teeth. We simply tell it as it is and as claimants tell us.
As far as I'm concerned, Scoop will continue to report and publish columns on public interest matters where they fall. Mr Wilson simply has to accept that. It's easy to fix - change your behaviour ACC.
I mean, for crying out loud, what media-savvy organisation would call the Sunday Star-Times a tabloid and then unjustifiably criticise it and think they could get away with it. All media will correct blatant mistakes but as a CEO Mr Wilson needs to learn that other lesson of life: "Don't upset the mind you are trying to convince."
ACC certainly doesn't appear to like the "hard look" of investigative journalism.
Mr Wilson then advised Scoop: " I and my management team put a huge emphasis on good service to claimants and funders and our track record clearly demonstrates this. Instances of poor or inappropriate service to claimants are dealt with."
"I find it regrettable when any agent of the media presents such an unbalanced view," he said.
Well, Scoop tried to get some balance into the debate by inviting Mr Wilson to visit claimants who disagreed with him when he said claimants were getting rehabilitation. He declined to take-up the visiting invitation.
He did suggest that if claimants wanted to document their experiences then he was prepared to have those reviewed by an appropriate team in ACC.
When claimants were told about this offer there was stunned silence until one said: "Whole forests have been cut-down to generate the paper that ACC has received from me but I still get flannel and fluff from it."
If I recall correctly, ACC claims to have an 80% approval rating out of 100%.
If you were making cars and 20% of them were defective would you still be in business? At least with a car you get a warranty - with ACC you don't. Or if you were a plumber and 20% of your work was springing leaks would you still be in business?
Mr Wilson suggested that we completely ignored the existence of the ACC Complaints Investigator, Ombudsman and Ministerial access via correspondence and the statutory rights of review and appeal.
Scoop believes it has written enough about ACC in the last few months for most readers to know that about the only two organisations in that list who are perceived to retain any credibility at all, are the Ombudsman and the ACC appeal court - both who are totally independent from ACC. Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done, Mr Wilson.
Scoop also wrote to him: "Firstly, it is crucial that ACC employees get it right first time and stop relying on others to put things right and causing claimants frustration, annoyance, distress and economic loss.
Scoop has now invited Mr Wilson to continue the dialogue to try and help improve matters for the benefit of claimants. We look forward to hearing from him again soon. We'll now see if his words match his deeds.
I started this column suggesting that all claimants who have been dumped from ACC on the subjective whim of a branch or case manager be reinstated until their cases can be properly heard in an independent court. It can lawfuly happen, Mr Wilson - you have that power.
Will it happen? - I hope so because it's Christmas and Mr Wilson says he is a good Anglican who takes his work at the City Mission seriously. I hope you have been taught to be cautious in your deliberations, Mr Wilson. I just hope that he doesn't have to serve too many dumped ACC families with a Christmas dinner at his City Mission on Christmas Day.
Will it be Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all injured New Zealanders in distress. Or will it be Bah Humbug - your choice Mr Wilson.