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Howard's End: ACC Day Of Shame March 18

Small and medium business operators along with members of the general public, alarmed by increasing costs while ACC investments and surpluses grow, look set to join injured claimants who are planning a nation-wide "Day of Shame" protest on 18 March over the the way the ACC is being run. Maree Howard writes.

Injured ACC claimants are organising a nation-wide protest on 18 March through because they say they are not receiving proper rehabilitation while ACC's investments are planned to grow to $5.4 billion by 2005, surpluses increase and while compliance costs and levies are being hiked-up by the Government for the public and business community.

In the latest round of Government changes to ACC some levies remained stable while others increased by up to 25 percent. The hardest hit was an increase in the motor vehicle levy with efffect from July 1 2003. On top of that is a planned increase in excise duty on petrol from 2.3 cents to 5.08 cents a litre.

The average motorist will end up paying $70.73 a year just in petrol excise tax to fund ACC coverage of road accidents.

But as one small dairy owner told Scoop," That's $70 they won't have to spend in my shop" and a claimant said, " It means a loaf of bread each week that I won't be able to afford for my kid's school lunches."

ACC Minister Ruth Dyson says the increase is to cover better estimations by ACC of long-term costs of rehabilitation and treatment for seriously injured claimants.

But already seriously injured claimants, some with brain injury, say they are not receiving proper rehabilitation now and the Minister is misleading the public while money meant for injured New Zealanders is being invested and planned to increase in the next 2-plus years. They claim they have to fight ACC every step of the way just to get even very basic help - or any help at all.

"People don't see the pain or the suffering inside of us, or the waking three or four times a night when your partner wakes because of pain or you have to help them turn over, or clean up their toilet accidents at two o'clock in the morning and still be expected to be bright and cheery the next day," one said. Another said she is still fighting ACC to get any rehabilitation at all. The reported courts cases are full of stories of human misery because of ACC.

Words remain guarded but "corrupt" is being used more frequently by claimant support groups spoken to by Scoop.

According to ACC's Accountability Documents, by the end of this financial year in June, ACC's investments in NZ and overseas are estimated to grow to $4 billion - in year ended 2004 to $4.7 billion - and by year ended June 2005 to $5.4 billion.

The Government plans to raise $1.5 billion for its coffers by 2005 through ACC's investment in NZ Government Securities while at the same time increasing ACC costs for the public and business community. ACC currently has $1.1 billion held in NZ Government Securities.

Claimants ask how this can be allowed when they are not receiving their entitlements for which the public also pays $2.2 billion each year to ensure that they are looked after.

Meanwhile, in the latest edition of "Canterbury Today" - claimed to be the voice of South Island business -reporter Tracey Cooper speaks to Business NZ Chief Executive, Anne Knowles, who says the large increase in the motor vehicle levy will add substantial costs to businesses relying on petrol driven vehicles to carry out their services.

Ms Knowles says there is already large unspent surpluses in the Employers Account - over $115 million as a June 30, 2002 - and the levy already contained an extremely high prudential margin of 15 percent instead of 5 percent which would be more appropriate.

"Employers hope that substantial surpluses will now be used to extend discounts for good safety records to small and medium businesses, Ms Knowles said.

But that seems highly unlikely while the Government seems to be using ACC as its personal investment bank.

Canterbury Employer's Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Peter Townsend, says it is fighting an uphill battle with the Government over the continual accumulation of funds under the ACC accounts and the fact that businesses are receiving little or no direct benefit from these funds.

"Despite assurances from the Government to reduce business compliance costs recent decisions give no confidence that they are listening or interested in ceasing the propagation of compliance costs, he said.

One farmer told Scoop that he pays $6,000 a year in ACC levies but when it came time to claim on an injury, he had to fight ACC all the way and it is still not settled. He has had to file for a formal review of the ACC decision just to try and get what is his lawful entitlement.

Claimants also attest to the fact that they are fighting an uphill battle with a Government who is alleged to be deliberately allowing ACC to be used as its cash cow and not providing the rehabilitation for injured people which is what the scheme is meant to do.

The Government-trumpeted new ACC Code of Claimants Rights took effect on February 1.

However, one claimant who had recent dealings with his case manager told Scoop that all that seems to have happened at midnight on 31 January was a huge cloud of the Government's ACC whiffle dust was spread over the country but ACC employees had already been provided with face masks.

The Trade Unions have also remained strangely quiet over the ACC controversy with some people claiming that that silence was bought-off by the Government in exchange for provisions in the Employment Contracts Act and other concessions for Trade Unions.

Allegations are also being raised that the Government is deliberately underfunding OSH so that it is not able to conduct full investigations into workplace accidents and chemical poisoning and hazard impacts on workers.

Be that as it may, if small and medium business owners and the general public do join-up with injured New Zealanders on the 18 March "Day of Shame" protest over ACC, it could be a very interesting day.


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