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Howard's End: Detention Mandatory Pigeon-holing

Once again Hon Lianne Dalziel has embroiled the Government in controversy over policies which places people in mandatory stereo-typed pigeon holes. First, as lead ACC Minister, and now, as Immigration Minister. Maree Howard writes.

High Court Judge, David Baragwanath, has ruled that the Government's operational instruction and Immigration policy for detaining asylum seekers is unlawful and "fundamentally defective."

The policy was a key plank in the Government's security response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

But in ruling the operational instruction unlawful the Judge said it breaches the U.N. Convention on Refugees which says refugee claimants should be detained only where necessary.

Necessity applied when there was a "real risk" of absconding and a "real risk" of criminal offending.

Justice Baragwanath ruled that immigration law required that the power to detain be used as a "true discretion."

Lianne Dalziel says she will now seek Crown Law Office advice about an appeal.

But this is not the fist time this Minister has used her powers to mandatory place people in one-size-fits-all pigeonholes irrespective of their circumstances.

Scoop readers will recall my earlier column where ACC claimants had been complaining bitterly to ACC Minister Lianne Dalziel about the behaviour of ACC staff and that they were not receiving the full range of entitlements available to them under the ACC law. They alleged there was a policy to deliberately remove them from the scheme irrespective of their disabilities or how they remain long-term.

Some are alleging they are only in the position they find themselves today as a direct result of ACC's past acts and omissions.

They had earlier called on Ms Dalziel to institute a public inquiry which was refused.

Having exhausted that possible avenue they then lodged a complaint against ACC with the police which alleges contravention of statute under the Crimes Act.

The claimants worst nightmares and suspicions were realised recently when Associate ACC Minister, Ruth Dyson, wrote to Christchurch lawyer, Jonathan McCarthy, stating: -

"In regard to the number of exits a Branch is expected to achieve, I can confirm that ACC's agreement with the Minister (Ms Dalziel) specifically requires the Corporation to reduce the number of long term claimants. This Corporate target is then broken down to individual branches. However, please note, this agreed number of exits from the scheme is a target ACC aims to meet, not a quota that must be met."

The claimants say a blanket agreement which makes claimants mandatory stereo-types no matter what the level of their disability, is unlawful and breaches ACC Act, the rule of law and international law.

They say every claim must be treated on its own facts and each individual claimant and their disability taken as ACC finds them.

Ms Dalziel now seems lost for words because an inquiry to her from Scoop on this matter has still to be acknowledged or answered.

In 1994 Judge Peter Trapski published his findings from his Inquiry into ACC Procedures which covered the previous fourteen years. He found:

* serious deficiencies in ACC staff attitudes;

* ACC methods in no way conformed to accepted principles of law;

* Negative and perverse decision-making;

* Ignoring medical reports;

* Selective about which reports were used;

* Confrontational and adversarial staff attitudes;

* Lack of empathy with people;

* Little understanding of the concerns of people;

* No recognition of facts;

* Implied and explicit threats in phone calls and correspondence;

* Reliance on flimsy evidence;

* Unhealthy readiness, almost an eagerness, to discontinue compensation payments;

* Referred claimants to specialists time and time again to obtain specific formal diagnosis until it found one favourable to itself - He described medical "hit-men";

* little knowledge and training of staff in medico/legal issues.

The claimants say these are exactly the same issues that they want addressed in the public inquiry requested of the Minister now.

Clearly, outrage is building with claimants networking on the Internet. One site has over 800 contributors who are telling their sad stories over which this correspondent has shed more than a few tears.

It looks like the Government and ACC/Immigration Minister Ms Dalziel will again be heading to court to defend what are essentially human rights issues.

It is interesting that Ms Dalziel is also Minister for Senior Citizens when some ACC claimants are almost 65 yet are still being harassed.

Five claimants told Scoop today that they simply cannot understand that a so-called Labour Government who is supposed to believe in social justice and be compassionate and caring has essentially become a clone of the previous National Government.

ACC has $3.8 billion invested as April 2002, according to official figures.

Three claimants have told Scoop they will be voting Green because of all the political parties, the Green's have stood up for ACC claimants concerns and harassment at select-committee hearings.

Can any fair-minded New Zealander not agree with them?

After all, the public is paying for the full range of entitlements to be delivered to injured people when there is clear evidence that they are not. The Minister's specific agreement with ACC to "exit" long-term claimants is obviously taking precedent over needs and disabilities.

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