ACC support group worries it is on ‘outer’

Denise Powell
Denise Powell
ACC claimant support group Acclaim Otago is concerned that it may have "put itself on the outer" through its stand over a "gagging clause", linked to a new advisory panel.

In May, group spokeswoman Dr Denise Powell said she was ending a 13-year membership of ACC community liaison groups because Acclaim Otago was unhappy about the "gagging clause", which restricted its ability to speak out.

"It was the right thing to do, but by doing that, have we actually damaged our ability to make a difference?"  Dr  Powell asked  on Thursday.

"It may mean we don’t have an effective voice or it’s  going to be harder for us,  making the comments or raising issues.

"They probably did listen to us but that hasn’t actually improved our situation at all."

ACC recently restructured its community liaison groups, and she said the new restrictions on public comment for panel members far exceeded the earlier requirements. Draft terms of reference for the recently-established panel said members "may comment publicly" on the panel’s work "with the prior approval of ACC and MBIE".

She had earlier approached ACC officials in an unsuccessful bid to clarify the new restriction, which also applied to a renamed "legal representatives group" but not to three other new liaison groups.

Acclaim Otago did not apply to join the restructured panel because of "gagging" clause concerns, but it now seemed the terms of reference could be changed by the panel.

Acclaim had felt the restrictions could have prevented ACC lobby groups from speaking out on issues simply because they were also being discussed in a liaison group, she said. Improving the terms of reference would be "positive" but the down side was "we’re no longer involved".

Approached for comment, ACC spokesman James Funnell said the terms of reference would be discussed at the panel’s first meeting on August 10.

These terms had been "clearly labelled as draft" and "could be amended depending on discussions at the meeting".

A balance was needed between "encouraging open conversations about new ideas, and protecting sensitive or confidential information".

It was also important for panel members to "discuss the experiences of people they represent" with  "confidence and comfort".

ACC has denied that the relevant clause gags panel members.

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