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.© 2014 Fairfax New Zealand Ltd
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.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
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.