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ACC leaks: your questions answered

A Q&A guide to the scandal. Who's National party chums with who? Will heads roll?

Rob Hosking
Mon, 19 Mar 2012

What the hell is going on at ACC?

Leaks, apparently. More leaks than a nervous, incontinent Welsh chef.

So if I’ve got this right: someone was sent a lot of personal accident claim data, some of it from the sensitive claims unit at ACC. And she threatened to go public with it unless she got some sort of guaranteed cover for the next couple of years?

Well, that’s what’s being alleged. The first bit is fairly clear: ACC accidentally sent the woman, who has been ‘on claim’ for nearly a decade, a spreadsheet containing information about around 6700 other people, including a number in the “sensitive claims” –that is, rape and sexual abuse – area. There’s a few odd aspects to all this though.

You mean that in itself isn’t odd?

Not as odd as it should be. A number of people – mostly medical people and lawyers – are now making it known they get sensitive material accidentally mailed to them by ACC on a not-infrequent basis.

How come we haven’t heard about that?

There's a sinister possibility - and more on that below - but probably the main reason is because on the whole they just email the stuff back, perhaps with a terse note suggesting ACC staffers be a bit more careful in future.

Which sounds like a fairly obvious thing to do.

Obvious, straightforward, and above board. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen in this case, which is the first thing about it which smells. The stuff was mailed to the woman – Bronwyn Pullar – last August, and it has only come to light recently.


Well, it’s pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that someone is trying to use it for its embarrassment-value.

Has it worked?

ACC’s looking pretty red faced. Chief executive Ralph Stewart effectively delivered a public reprimand to the manager concerned. Stewart himself doesn’t have to worry about embarrassment – he was still working at Axa when the events in question took place, and only came on as CEO late last year.

Are heads going to roll?

Stewart says not, at this point anyway. The worrying thing about the other emails which have been published is that Pullar is saying she has enough dirt on “corruption” at ACC and the tone suggests she is going to blow the whistle and embarrass the government. The message to then- minister Nick Smith is pretty clearly in that
ACC itself say Pullar tried to use the embarrassing leak of the private files of 6700 other claimants to get ACC to pay her a two-year guaranteed benefit.

Couldn't that be interpreted as blackmail?

Well, it could be, yes. Pullar denies she ever made such a threat.

Doesn’t that make the ACC’s accusation defamatory?

Uh huh. That would be Pullar’s next move, if  the accusation isn’t true.  The other thing she may do is follow up her threats to expose what she calls ACC's 'rotten to the core' culture.

What did she mean by that?

Not clear at this point, but here's the thing:  if other people have used such embarrassing leaks to get what is effectively 'hush money' out of ACC, this could blow up very big. 

Is there any evidence of that?

None, not at the moment any way.  The thing is, if Pullar did try to use that as leverage for more money, she is also doing what she accusing ACC of doing.

What, bullying?

Heh. No, or not just that anyway.  One of her complaints - and it is one you hear a lot about ACC - is that it all too often tries to over-ride medical advice with its own interpretation of someone's medical conditions. 

The golden rule of insurance in these areas, whether it it is public or private, is that the medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment is the job of the medical specialists involved, not the insurer or anyone else. ACC has for a long time - going back well before the change of government, by the way - had a reputation for constantly pushing through that boundary.  I've heard a number of GPs say ACC is worse than a lot of private insurers in this regard, going back a decade or more.  But the funny thing is that if Pullar did what ACC say she did - and I stress at the moment it is ACC's word against hers - then she did that herself, by demanding a fairly specific payout regardless of any medical advice about her condition. 

What is Michelle Boag’s role in all this?

She’s a National Party chum of Bronwyn Pullar’s, apparently. Just a mate. Nothing political going on here at all. Perish the thought.

Really? Michelle Boag is involved, and there’s nothing political going on?

Apparently. Well, it could happen.

It’s a bit of a stretch though, isn’t it?

Well…. you ever seen the photo of the world’s largest rubber band? Something a bit like that.
The story is they are both old National Party mates but Boag says she hasn’t been 'involved' in the party for nearly a decade. She was president back then, but hasn’t held an official position since.

So there’s no National Party connection now?

She says, not. She was quoted as saying she’d had no involvement with National for a decade. Apparently she finished as party president and then severed all ties. Didn’t use those contacts she’d built up in that time at all.

You’re not serious?

No, I’m not serious. Apparently Boag is, though.

Rob Hosking
Mon, 19 Mar 2012
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ACC leaks: your questions answered