Labour are saying that Nick Smith may have intervened on behalf of other friends, and that there needs to be an inquiry to determine this. Personally I thought his letter on behalf of Pullar made it pretty clear how reluctant he was to do anything. But it has also dawned on me that the fact he actually wrote a letter actually strongly implies that he was not trying to improperly influence things for Pullar. Why? Well, because he did in fact put it in writing.
If Nick had really been trying to screw the scrum for Pullar, the last thing he would have done is sign his name to a letter acting as a referee for her health before her accident.
If a Minister wants to push a department or agency in a particular way, they do not leave fingerprints. This will be officially denied, but ask any former Ministerial staffer from either party.
If Nick had really wanted to get ACC to give Pullar special treatment, he would have had his minsierial advisor phone the CEO. The ministerial advisor would say something like “The Minister is very concerned about this case”. That is code for “fix it”. They might say stuff like “The Minister is concerned that this could become a high profile story” and “The Minister wants to protect the PM who is constantly getting lobbied on this issue” or “The Minister thinks it would be prudent to assure yourself that the claimant has got everything they are entitled to, and has not been disadvantaged by ACC’s actions”.
Now none of this changes the fact that Nick’s actions in writing the reference were not acceptable. But in terms of motivation, I do think that they do show his intention wasn’t to apply improper pressure on ACC. He was trying to placate Pullar. Otherwise he could have just got one of his staff to make a discrete phone call.
And no, I am not saying that agencies will break the law or even their own policies just to please a Minister. However many decisions are subjective and can go either way. It is in those situations, that Ministerial desires can have an impact.