30 August 2014

Complaint turns up heat on Collins

An article from the Dominion Post by Phil Kitchin
An ACC whistleblower has complained to the privacy commissioner alleging Cabinet minister Judith Collins leaked confidential but false details to WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater. Bronwyn Pullar filed her complaint after reading in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics claims of Slater giving a friend - a former sex worker - false details about Pullar that the blogger said he got after speaking to Collins.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, whose office is overseen by Collins as the justice minister, said yesterday that he was assessing the complaint. The complaint heaps more pressure on the embattled Collins, who is on a "final final warning" from Prime Minister John Key after admitting she passed details about public servant Simon Pleasants to Slater, who then published material on his blog, prompting death threats against the bureaucrat.
Pullar caused severe embarrassment for Collins, who is also ACC minister, when she blew the whistle in 2012 on a massive ACC privacy breach involving her being sent confidential details on 6500 claimants, including sexual abuse victims.
Dirty Politics claims the day the story broke, Slater told the former prostitute - who was concerned her details were part of the ACC breach - that he would talk to Collins for "the real story". In two sets of messages between Slater and the ex-prostitute, Slater said he had spoken to Collins, and he provided his friend with then-unknown information about the whistleblower, the book claims.
Particularly damaging for Collins are the book's claims that Slater's statements show that he knew who Pullar was, that she had tried to extort ACC and that she was likely to be prosecuted. At the time Dirty Politics claims he was stating this to the ex-sex worker, ACC had not laid any extortion complaint to police and Pullar's request for anonymity had been respected by ACC.
If Slater's statements to the former prostitute as detailed in the book are correct, Collins could face serious trouble for leaking Pullar's name and false allegations of extortion against her before the minister had received any final written reports from her ministry.
However, Slater now insists the key details were not leaked by Collins.
Slater yesterday confirmed he spoke to Collins but said she only provided him with details about the privacy breach to allay his ex-sex worker friend's fears. He said Collins gave him no information about Pullar and allegations of extortion, and that he got that information from other sources.
Collins side-stepped questions about what she told Slater and said she was unaware of any complaint to the privacy commissioner against her by Pullar.
"If there is one, I would be unable to comment," Collins said.
"There are complaints about the Hager book and stolen emails before the police and the privacy commissioner and it would be inappropriate to comment further."
When Pullar first blew the whistle on ACC she was not identified, and the corporation was told she wished to remain anonymous so she was not deluged with calls from ACC clients asking if they were part of the privacy breach. The scandal forced ACC into making thousands of apologies and Collins faced snap debates in Parliament.
Three days after the story broke and after crisis meetings involving Collins, then chairman John Judge and then chief executive Ralph Stewart, ACC hit back at Pullar.
ACC published a report claiming Pullar tried to extort the corporation at a December 2011 meeting held between Pullar, her support person and former National Party president Michelle Boag, and two senior ACC managers. ACC did not ask Pullar for her side of the story before making the allegations public and then repeating them to police, who launched an inquiry.
Slater was then fed a memo from Boag to Collins which he gave to a Sunday newspaper reporter and Pullar's name became public knowledge. Slater went on the attack on his blog, falsely accusing Pullar and Boag of blackmail.
But ACC and Slater did not know Pullar had a tape recording of the meeting that showed the allegations were false.
Correspondence with the privacy commissioner's office obtained by The Dominion Post shows the commissioner admitting his office initially "overlooked" Pullar's complaint made on August 15.
The commissioner last week ruled out investigating a Green Party complaint that Collins leaked Pleasants' name to Slater. He said he would need a complaint from Pleasants, who has declined to lodge one.
Edwards' assistant commissioner of investigations, Mike Flahive, told Pullar on Wednesday he was "assessing" her complaint to consider what action to take.
"Your patience would be appreciated," Flahive said.

The latest complaint that ACC and Justice Minister Judith Collins breached ACC whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar's privacy is different to one that dragged Collins into an earlier investigation by the privacy commissioner. That investigation was launched when a memo from former National Party president Michelle Boag to Collins clarifying Puller's reasons for blowing the whistle was leaked to a reporter. The leak led to Pullar - who has a brain injury - coming under siege from media as ACC simultaneously falsely claimed she'd tried to extort the corporation.
Investigators trawled through Collins' office and computer and questioned ACC chairman John Judge and then chief executive Ralph Stewart to try to find the source of the leak. Collins was accused of being the leaker, which she correctly denied.
The investigation failed to find the leak but informed sources have confirmed to The Dominion Post that the leak was from one senior board member to another, who gave it to a blogger, who passed it to Slater, who gave it to the reporter.

March 13, 2012 - The Dominion Post reveals ACC breached the privacy of 6500 ACC clients, including rape victims, by sending their details to an unnamed ACC client.
March 13 - According to Dirty Politics, WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater tells an ex-prostitute friend he would ring ACC Minister Judith Collins to "get the real story".
March 14 - Slater tells the ex-prostitute the whistleblower was a woman who tried to blackmail ACC and was likely to be prosecuted for extortion, Dirty Politics claims. That afternoon, minister Collins attends a meeting with ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart and chairman John Judge. In an affidavit later, Judge said Collins "very strongly" pushed for police to be told about threats allegedly made by Pullar at a meeting with ACC on December 2011.
March 15 - The word "blackmail" is first publicly discussed. Collins tells Radio Live she had oral reports on the December meeting but wanted written reports.
March 15 - Two ACC managers from the December meeting provide their official account, which contains no allegations of blackmail or extortion.
March 16 - A "situation report" is published on ACC's website accusing the whistleblower of extortion.
March 17 - The book claims Slater tells the ex-prostitute he knows who the whistleblower is and that she will get "rat f...ed hard."
March 18 - A Sunday newspaper names the whistleblower, Bronwyn Pullar, after Slater provides a leaked email from ACC.
March 19 - ACC makes a written complaint to police about alleged extortion.
April 30 - The Dominion Post reveals Pullar recorded the critical meeting at which ACC claimed she'd tried to extort the corporation. The recording showed ACC had made false allegations. Police swiftly shut down their investigation.
© 2014 Fairfax New Zealand Ltd


20 August 2014

ACC initiative targets sexual violence

An article from the Papakura Courier by Tao Lin
They are talking sex and violence at Papakura High - and how the two don't mix.
The school is the first in South Auckland to trial Mates & Dates, a new ACC initiative that aims to help prevent sex and dating violence by teaching teenagers healthy relationship skills and behaviour. It's being piloted during term three across seven classes and organisers say it's getting good results.
ACC statistics shows the 15 to 24 age group is the most at risk from violence by current and ex-partners. One in five female and one in 10 male secondary school students report unwanted sexual contact or being made to do unwanted sexual things. Around 37 per cent describe the unwanted activity as severe and 57 per cent tell no-one.
Korowai Tumanako, a Maori service designed to support those affected by sexual violence, facilitates Mates & Dates at Papakura High. Its director Russell Smith says the response from students has been great and many of those who were disengaged at first were taking notes by the second or third sessions. The programme teaches about healthy relationships, consent and how to stay safe.
"The hope is to normalise discussions," Smith says.
Fellow director Joy Te Wiata says students are encouraged to apply the lessons to all areas of their lives and recognise how to help others in danger.
"It's quite a courageous programme in that we are making discussions about sexual violence overt," she says.
"They're simple, key messages."
School guidance counsellor Avril Michaels says she's also pleased with "how positively the staff of the classes have embraced the programme".
ACC sexual violence prevention programme manager Sandra Dickson says it applies to all kinds of relationships and extends the organisation's role in helping people deal with experiences of sexual violence. It already plays a key role supporting people dealing with the effects of sexual abuse or assault, she says.
"We now want to play a greater role in helping to prevent sexual and dating violence and the harms they cause."
The programme is relevant to all students, whether they're in a relationship or not, she says.
"It covers all kinds of relationships such as friendships and those with family. The programme will help students think about relationships they already have, as well as dating in the future.
"It's a challenging time for teenagers to be growing into adulthood. We hope Mates & Dates will give them the skills and tools they need to both make that transition safely and carry with them throughout their lives."
ACC minister Judith Collins was at the school last week to catch up on the programme's progress. She describes it as "a fantastic step to prevention" and says she supports challenging current mentalities around sexual violence.
Papakura High is one of nine schools around the country trialing the new programme.
If you or someone you know needs information or help after a sexual assault or abuse, contact ACC's sensitive claims unit confidentially on 0800 735 566. See toah-nnest.org.nz for information on where to seek help if you have experienced sexual violence or become concerned about harmful sexual behaviour towards others.
© 2014 Fairfax New Zealand Ltd


15 August 2014

Time Key took responsibility for Collins

A press release from the New Zealand Labour Party by Grant Robertson
It is well past time for John Key to take some responsibility for the misuse of power and information by his Minister Judith Collins, and follow through on his last warning to her, Labour MP Grant Robertson says.
“The evidence released this week shows John Key’s staff and Ministers are directly involved in the kind of negative politics and smears that put ordinary New Zealanders off engaging in the political process. It is time for the Prime Minister to show some leadership and take responsibility for these actions.
“Nicky Hager’s book includes new examples of the way in which Judith Collins has misused information that she only had access to because she is a Minister. New Zealanders have a right to expect better of the Ministers who act on their behalf.
“Two examples stand out, which John Key needs to hold Judith Collins to account for. First, she was involved in a campaign to smear a staff member in the Ministerial Services team as part of a distraction from issues being raised about Bill English claiming housing allowances in 2009.
“Despite there being no evidence to suggest this staff member had done anything wrong, he was attacked in several blogs by Cameron Slater. The book released this week reveals that Judith Collins sent information about this person’s name and job to Cameron Slater as he prepared these attacks.
“This is an appalling example of a Minister misusing her power to attack an innocent public servant. By his inaction John Key is telling New Zealanders that this is acceptable behaviour.
“The book also contains emails from Cameron Slater that report conversations with Judith Collins about the unauthorised release of ACC information that went to Bronwyn Pullar. The emails record that Slater had talked to the Minister about the case and that he received information about what Bronwyn Pullar was doing that could only have come from Judith Collins.
“As Minister for ACC that would be a gross breach of the confidentiality expected when dealing with ACC. John Key needs to investigate this to show once and for all where the leak of this sensitive information came from.
“The evidence presented this week shows that Judith Collins sent many messages and emails and made many phone calls to Cameron Slater that smear and denigrate political opponents and even innocent public servants.
“That is not what New Zealanders are paying her a Ministerial salary for. John Key needs to stop being so relaxed about serious issues. He needs to take some responsibility for her actions and follow through on the many warnings he has given Judith Collins,” Grant Robertson said.
© 2014 Scoop Media


13 August 2014

National must stop meddling with ACC before the election

A press release from the Green Party by Kevin Hague
The redesign currently occurring at the Accident Claims Corporation (ACC) for sensitive claims needs to be put on hold immediately, said the Green Party today.
The Green Party is concerned about work currently underway at ACC involving the sensitive claims service that could impact on the availability of clinical psychology treatment for victims of rape and sexual abuse as well as their privacy. The Green Party believes that ACC is instituting a new level of bureaucracy in order to farm out sensitive claims to private providers.
“Instituting major structural change into the way ACC delivers services to New Zealanders a few weeks out from a general election is unacceptable,” Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague said today.
“The new corporate insurance model that ACC is moving towards creates a new layer of bureaucracy that may enable companies to set up and profit from procuring the services of specialised psychologists.
“Private companies should not be able to turn a profit from the money intended to support the victims of sexual violence and abuse.
“ACC’s new model involves the creation of new, non-specialist ‘supplier’ entities who will tender for the provision of services with pre-existing treatment providers.
“Moving towards this model could result in non-specialised third parties handling extremely confidential information which is currently only held by the Sensitive Claims unit and select providers,” Mr Hague said.
“The supplier organisations do not need to be specialists in sexual violence services, but are entirely new organisations set up for nationwide competitive tendering. It is not clear that in the event of a breach of privacy or process who would be held to account.
“The sensitive claims redesign could result in a decline in the specialist workforce and undermine the provision of wrap around services.
“Any psychologists not signed up with a supplier or themselves becoming a supplier will be unable to provide ACC funded specialist claims services.
“The Government has missed the opportunity to redesign the sensitive claims pathway and fully implement the Disley report recommendations.”
The Disley report, released in 2012, suggested a wide range recommendations including improving communications with clients, refining ACC’s systems and processes, ensuring treatment and assessment is carried out by a well-qualified, fit-for-purpose workforce.
“National is choosing to push through major changes without properly consulting clients, advocates, psychologists or the public,” Mr Hague said.
“The new direction National is taking ACC lacks proper checks and balances.
“The Green Party will stop this attempt at privatisation of ACC by stealth.
"The Green Party has previously laid out a ten point plan for rehabilitating ACC and bring it back to the core principles it was founded on.”
Link to Green Party ACC plan: https://www.greens.org.nz/press-releases/acc-rehabilitation-plan-announced
© 2014 Scoop Media


31 July 2014

ACC cover to extend to child victims of sexual grooming

A press release from the New Zealand Government
ACC Minister Judith Collins today announced an addition to the Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill that would extend ACC sensitive claims cover to children or young people who are victims of sexual grooming or indecent communications.
“There is a gap in the current ACC law that needs addressing to establish cover for victims of these types of child sexual exploitation,” Ms Collins says.
“Our Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill targets criminals who prey on children, either by feeding the supply or fuelling the demand for the insidious underground child sexual abuse market.
“This proposal will ensure ACC cover is provided for mental injury caused by the Bill’s new offence of indecent communication with a young person, as well as cover for the existing offence of sexual grooming.”
Ms Collins says the proposal supports ACC’s new strategy for action on sexual violence that focuses on prevention, first response and quality services to help victims of sexual violence.
Just recently ACC announced its Mates & Dates pilot that aims to prevent sexual and dating violence by helping young people to understand the value of healthy relationships based on respect, negotiation and consent.
A further addition to the Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill will ensure that any person convicted of indecently communicating with a young person is restricted from working in core children’s workforce roles. The Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament.
© 2014 Scoop Media