I’ve done a day of media interviews about the revelation that the crucial meeting last December between two senior ACC managers, claimant Bronwyn Pullar and her support person Michelle Boag was recorded. Several journalists have now heard the tape of the meeting and/or read a transcript, and have been reporting today that the tape does not support the ACC contention that Ms. Pullar was engaged in extortion, using threats to obtain benefits to which she was not entitled.
This is important because ACC have made this complaint to the NZ Police, and they are investigating it. I have always been suspicious of ACC’s claim about what happened at the meeting. I have various reasons, but one was that the meeting occurred at the beginning of December 2011, but no complaint was made to the Police until March 2012, following unfavourable headlines for ACC when its massive breach of privacy was revealed. My suspicion, to spell it out, was that the Police complaint was essentially trumped up in an attempt to divert attention away from ACC’s own shortcomings.
What we have learnt about the recording of the meeting adds weight to that suspicion. But if it is true, then very serious issues indeed are raised about the integrity and honesty of some senior public servants, because the account of the meeting they have given both to the New Zealand public and to the Minister herself would, at the least, seem to be misleading. Their actions also reinforce the belief that the culture at ACC has become one in which the ends – in this case self-serving ones – justify the means. As Bronwyn Pullar points out, if the recording hadn’t existed then it would be a case of her word against that of senior ACC managers, and their account was that she was a villain trying to hold ACC to ransom.
The other aspect of that December meeting that I have struggled with is that two senior managers met a claimant with a heavy-hitting support person (Michelle Boag used to be President of the National Party), the meeting was arranged by an ACC Board member, with the approval of the ACC Chair, very serious issues about ACC’s claims management were raised, including arguably the largest breach of privacy in NZ history, and yet we are asked to believe that they did not report back on the meeting or issues raised to their boss, ACC CEO Ralph Stewart, or the ACC Board Chair John Judge. That’s just not how it works. That meeting would have been an absolute focus for the ACC Board and senior management and, in any case, the managers involved in it would have been desperate to ensure that they didn’t personally shoulder the risk.
Which raises the question: since Ralph Stewart and John Judge were presumably the ones who made the decision to eventually complain to the Police, were they aware that what happened at the meeting didn’t really support their complaint, or had they somehow gained the wrong impression of what had occurred without this being corrected at any point, then or subsequently?
Either way, I’m guessing the Minister has some more questions for Mr. Judge.