ACC 'gagging clause' worries

Warren Forster
Warren Forster
Concern about an ACC ''gagging clause'' highlights the need for greater focus on human rights and oversight by a commissioner, Dunedin lawyer and researcher Warren Forster says.

ACC claimant support group Acclaim Otago recently said it had done ''the right thing'' by not applying to join a new ACC scheme advisory panel, and objecting to the ''gagging clause''.

In May, group spokeswoman Dr Denise Powell ended a 13-year membership of ACC community liaison groups because the group was unhappy about restrictions on its rights to speak out.

The stand was ''the right thing'', but had damaged the group's ability to ''make a difference'' for injured members, she said.

Mr Forster recently wrote to the ACC and asked if the ''gagging clauses are going to be a blanket approach'' or applied case-by-case, as required.

The clauses were a ''significant problem'', and if further changes were to be made, ACC ''must then re-invite participation based on its new approach'', he said.

ACC has also said other members could be added to the panel, which could modify its draft terms of reference.

Mr Forster said some improvements were proposed, but claimant groups and other people concerned had already had to waste a great deal of time and energy.

Another case of ''ACC controls the relationships'' was clearly inconsistent with respecting the human rights of claimants, he said.

A commissioner for personal injury at ACC was needed, including to provide ACC with ''some independent advice close to home'' and to safeguard wider community interests, he said.

A UN committee which monitors compliance with the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has previously asked New Zealand to adopt a human rights-based approach to the ACC.

Dr Powell yesterday felt ''bittersweet'' about a likely more favourable outcome over the panel, but said more emphasis should be put on human rights.

ACC spokesman James Funnell said the panel's terms of reference would remain draft until confirmed its first meeting on August 10.

Given the need to access a ''wide and diverse range of perspectives'', panel members would discuss with ACC how best to ensure this.

This could include involving other individuals in some specific discussions, drawing on members from ACC's wider customer advisory panels, or further ''supplementing'' the panel's membership.

The panel appointment process had not ''infringed anyone's human rights'', Mr Funnell said.


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