22 Mar 2012

Woman at centre of ACC row apologises

7:38 pm on 22 March 2012

The woman at the centre of an ACC privacy breach has apologised to the National Party MP Nick Smith, following his resignation from cabinet.

Dr Smith resigned Wednesday after admitting he had written a reference for Bronwyn Pullar under ministerial letterhead and failed to declare a conflict of interest when dealing with the case.

Ms Pullar has released a four page statement in which she says sorry to Dr Smith, saying it is regrettable he had to resign, and she knows he was only trying to help a friend.

She also outlines how she ended up being emailed the details of more than 6000 ACC claimants.

Ms Pullar says she believes it was a genuine mistake, but accuses the corporation of leaking her name and information to the media in an attempt to destroy her privacy and reputation.

Calls for inquiry

Opposition parties are pressing the Government to set up an independent inquiry into the events leading to the resignation of Cabinet Minister Nick Smith.


Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague has already written to Auditor-General Lyn Provost, asking her to investigate, although he believes a wider inquiry is needed.

Mr Hague says it was unusual that two senior ACC staff met Ms Pullar and her support person, former National Party president Michelle Boag, in December to discuss Ms Pullar's case.

"It's quite likely that that occurred because of the minister's involvement, and if that's the case, the New Zealand public needs to know that.

"The New Zealand public is entitled to know what effect ministerial interference has on the administration of ACC's processing of their claims."

Labour's ACC spokesperson, Andrew Little, says an investigation by the Auditor-General doesn't go far enough as there are a range of people outside Government involved, over whom Ms Provost will have no jurisdiction.

Both the Privacy Commissioner and the police are investigating aspects of the case but neither is conducting the wider inquiry demanded by Labour and the Greens.

Prime Minister John Key says there's no need for an inquiry, as the minister has moved on, and the two other investigations are taking place.

"There's nothing I've seen, in any paperwork that I've seen, that would give me concern and argue the need for an investigation."

However, Nick Smith says he supports an inquiry.

'Errors of judgement'

Dr Smith told Parliament Wednesday he was resigning because he had made two errors of judgement while ACC Minister in the last term of Government.

He wrote a letter of reference as ACC Minister in July last year on ministerial letterhead for Ms Pullar, who has had a long-standing disagreement with ACC about its support for her.

The letter was sent to Ms Pullar's medical assessor, stating that prior to her accident she was well, capable and worked hard.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister John Key accepted an apology from Dr Smith over the letter. He said he did not believe the minister breached Cabinet rules when he wrote it.

The following day Mr Key accepted Nick Smith's resignation from Cabinet after a second letter was revealed.

Dr Smith told Parliament he had asked ACC go through all correspondence he had about Ms Pullar's case.

Among this was a letter, drafted by ACC to a National Party MP who had made a representation on behalf of Ms Pullar, which Dr Smith signed without saying he had a conflict of interest.

Opposition questions PM's leadership

Opposition parties say Prime Minister John Key has not shown good leadership in dealing with former cabinet minister Nick Smith.

Labour Party leader David Shearer says it was the second, less serious letter, signed off by Dr Smith on behalf of an ACC manager, which eventually forced Mr Key's hand.

But he says the Prime Minister shrugged off the first letter, which involved a serious conflict of interest. He says Mr Key should have acted immediately to ask for Dr Smith's resignation and to order an inquiry.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says Mr Key has a habit of only acting when he has painted himself into a corner, which is not good leadership.

"He should have taken control of the situation earlier and taken it more seriously," she said.

"Now that Nick Smith has resigned his ministerial portfolios, it does not absolve John Key of his responsibility to properly investigate the issue."