No fault but mud sticks

What has the Accident Compensation Corporation got to do with JRR Tolkien?

For most people, probably not a lot; for me, grateful memories.

Before we go there, I've been trying to get my head round this latest ACC furore - and now my head hurts. I wonder if I can make a claim?

Perhaps I should try my private medical insurer first.

Such an initiative would probably work best if I had a well-connected, politically influential PR flack to assist in framing my application. It might help if she were a former National Party president, or something.

The application would, of course, mention how well connected I am. It would name-check the Prime Minister, a few cabinet ministers, some high-profile businessmen - only (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) so that the insurance company knew these people were "in the know". We'd hate them to imagine how my claim was treated would influence party policy on - for instance - opening up ACC to the private insurance market.

What to aim for?

How does $14 million figure?

Sound as if I mean business?

And whatever I end up with, I'll be able to top up with a claim through ACC. After all, I'm entitled to it. My head hurts.

Opposition politicians, and some of the Government's own friends, have smelt a big fat rat running round ACC and the Bronwyn Pullar affair, gnawing away at the corporation's integrity and its reputation. But other reputations have been exposed, too, amid allegations of skulduggery, pointed leaks, allegations of preferential treatment, suggestions of blackmail, supposed power plays within the National Party, defamation actions and so forth.

Who exactly is doing what to whom is still a matter for the tea leaves and the gossip mongers. But a couple of things emerge.

One is that you don't have to be a hard-done-by blue-collar worker to find yourself in need of ACC assistance. The woman at the centre of this affair was, by all accounts, a talented business executive and National Party activist - until 10 years or so ago, she had a cycle accident and suffered a head injury. She has spent much of her time in the interim pursuing compensation claims.

Wherever one sits on the political spectrum, at the heart of this storm is one woman's personal tragedy.

Unfortunately, the pungent odour of preferential treatment and political influence has subsumed it. Ms Pullar was a good friend of former senior cabinet minister Nick Smith.

In a moment of weakness, as ACC minister, he acceded to her requests for intervention and signed off a couple of letters to ACC. He paid the price.

She is also a close friend of Michelle Boag, former National Party president and public relations guru. Ms Boag assisted Ms Pullar in her private insurance injury claim and also helped with her ACC case, attending at least one meeting with senior case officers as a support person.

Ms Pullar, as is now well known, was also - coincidentally? - the recipient of an email file listing 6700 potentially sensitive ACC claimants. This confidentiality breach is now the subject of an inquiry by the Privacy Commissioner. Other associated leaks may also be looked into.

Thus far, the mess is around the edges of ACC itself and seems to involve competing egos and political ambitions.

Nothing has yet been proven to darken the name of the organisation itself.

Judgement in many quarters has got seriously out of whack.

ACC Minister and Justice Minister Judith Collins is suing Labour MPs Trevor Mallard, Andrew Little and Radio New Zealand for defamation: she who once used parliamentary privilege to call former Labour MP David Benson-Pope a "pervert" without producing a shred of evidence.

Some might think that what's good for the gander is good for the goose, and that the writ is a smoke screen.

While all this goes on, mud sticks to ACC, a world-leading no-fault accident compensation system. But back to Tolkien.

During my final year of university and senior rugby in Palmerston North, I busted a knee. Cruciate ligament, probably. I limped on through the season, but it needed fixing and after finals I fronted up for an operation.

In those days there was no such thing as keyhole surgery: it was the full anaesthetic, the knife, removal of the offending gristle and a leg cast immobile from toe to crotch for a month or so.

I didn't have a bean to my name. ACC helped me with my rent and something to eat for a few weeks until I was able to work. A friend gave me Lord of the Rings, which, on account of being unable to move, I sat down and read - from start to finish.

I've always been grateful.

Simon Cunliffe is deputy editor (news) at the Otago Daily Times.


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