I’d not yet blogged on the ACC saga as there were not enough facts out there to form conclusions on. I also have been wary as I know reasonably well several of the people involved – Bronwyn Pullar, Michelle Boag and Nick Smith.
Like many in National I knew Bronwyn before her head injury nine years ago. Head injuries can leave people massively affected, and this has been the case for Bronwyn. My mother practised as a neuropsychologist and was involved in the Head Injury Society, so through her I have gained a reasonable lay understanding of head injuries, and especially how many people never fully recover from them.
It is precisely for injuries like Bronwyn suffered that we have ACC. Now Bronwyn has felt for some years that she had been badly treated by ACC, and also her private insurers off memory. Her battles with them have to some degree become quite consuming for her. I don’t know the details of all the issues, but I will say that from what I do know I think Bronwyn has had some legitimate grievances. That doesn’t mean all the grievances are legitimate – I am not in a position to judge that.
Having set out that background, I do believe Bronwyn made an error of judgement when she was accidentially e-mailed an ACC spreadsheet which included some client details. The correct thing to do would be to immediately notify ACC, and delete the file. It would be fine to perhaps record down a few details from them as proof the data breach occurred, and complain to the Privacy Commissioner. But retaining the data was unwise.
The fact that there is a dispute over who was laying down conditions over its return, reinforces to me that deleting or returning the data was what should have happened.
There has been some focus on the role of Michelle Boag. Yes Michelle is a former National Party President, but that was a decade ago. For much longer than that she has been Bronwyn’s friend. I do not accept that a former party president can not be a support person to someone dealing with a government agency.
It is entirely natural, and in fact advisable, that someone with a head injury has a support person along.
Then we have the letter from Nick Smith, which the Herald has online here. As Nick has now conceded it was an error of judgement. You can quibble over the fact the letter was to independent medical assessors, not ACC. But the reality is Nick should have declined to write the letter at all, just as he had also declined to intervene with ACC. There were many other people who could write a letter about how Bronwyn was before her accident.
Doing the letter on parliamentary letterhead compounded the failure of judgement.
While a failure of judgement, I was pleased to see a journalist tweet that David Shearer had declined to say he thinks the lapse in judgement was serious enough to warrant resignation. It isn’t, and it is good to see Shearer not trying to beat this up, beyond the rightful criticism that is due. If there was some suggestion of self-gain, then it would be a different matter.
The Privacy Commissioner is going to investigate this issue, and she is independent. It remains to be seen how wide her terms of reference will be. I’m not actually against a fuller independent inquiry, because while I do not think anyone has acted with malign motives, the perception is that it is very murky and sunlight is the best disinfectant. However it might be that the Privacy Commissioner inquiry will be wide enough.