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On The Right - If It Ain't Broke...

By Philip Rennie

The point of a select committee is usually to allow public input into policies, to hear from experts and modify proposed legislation. However the select committee on Labour's ACC policy, which made its recommendations this week, was a kangaroo court. Predictably Labour is still going to renationalise ACC; nothing was going to change their minds, despite having to listen to 1050 submissions almost all of which were opposed to the changes.

Labour MP Graham Kelly (a trade unionist - surprise surprise) chaired the committee and has proudly pointed to the changes they recommended as evidence that Labour has an open mind on the issue. And he's right - the committee has recommended many complicated, confusing and bureaucratic exceptions to renationalisation. These include different categorizations for certain groups like Women's Refuges, a special scheme for farmers and the self-employed, and extending the accredited employer scheme (which is only really an option for large employers).

Also Michael Cullen has set a very brave, optimistic premium level of $1:16 per $100 of payroll which is higher than @Work was planning to offer, and would never have been possible if not for the improved efficiency competition brought to ACC.

This begs the obvious question - why bother? Why go through all the hassle, the cost, the restructuring when the end result, at best, will be no better than the system we currently have? If Labour was promising to create a better scheme, then fair enough, but why fix something if it ain't broke?

There are some incredibly lame excuses Labour is half-heartedly using to justify their policy. They say that premiums in Western Australia have risen - so what? Since when do we base all our major policy decisions on what happens in Western Australia? They also say that some insurance companies are trying to cover up accidents and deny claims. Unfortunately for them, there is hardly any solid evidence for this. And even if it is occurring, then there are ways to correct it without overturning the whole system and going back to the cumbersome monopoly structure.

The real reason Labour is carrying out such an unpopular policy is that they drew a line in the sand far too early. Back in 1998, before National's reforms even came into effect, they promised they would reverse them. Recently I read some of the speeches in Parliament given by Ruth Dyson and Laila Harre at the time, and they are absolutely hilarious. They warn of chaos, of high premiums and an inefficient scheme disastrous for employers and employees. About the only thing they got right is that the changes were ideologically driven. However the problem for them is that the ideological reforms made by National have been outstandingly successful, and as a result Labour have painted themselves into a corner.

The more I see of Labour's flawed policies (e.g. interest free student loans, causing huge increase in student debt) the more I think last year's election result wasn't that strongly based on policy. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Wait till we get Laila Harre's scheme for employment law, Matt Robson's touchy-feely justice programmes, and Jim Anderton's Think Big schemes. Whoopee.

Feedback to jrennie@the.net.nz

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