Byron Clark The Spark December 2009
At the end of October parliament voted 69 to 53 to send the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill, which contains a number of proposed changes to ACC, to select committee. The National Party initially had trouble getting together the numbers, with ACT insisting the changes didn’t go far enough. Despite some initial concerns however, the Maori Party eventually fell into line, with the bizarre sounding justification, “We know that Maori have consistently had less access to ACC entitlements than other groups, under existing legislation. While this Bill would further restrict entitlements, we are particularly interested in hearing how the scheme may be altered to address the underlying bias to Maori.”
Many of the changes have already been met with strong public protest. New guidelines that would require sexual abuse victims to be diagnosed with a mental illness under the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Version 4 before they can receive counselling led to rallies in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, each attracting 200 people. A smaller protest also took place in Dunedin.
Dr Kim McGregor who did a study of sexual abuse counselling for her PhD and wrote the existing ACC guidelines, addressed the Auckland rally in her capacity as a therapist. According to The Standard she has promised to resign as an ACC registered therapist if these new guidelines are implemented. North Shore psychotherapist Christine Hatcher who was on the Auckland demonstration said she would not take any more ACC-funded clients because it was against her code of ethics “to put survivors of sexual abuse through more trauma than they have already been through” Eliana Darroch of the End Rape Culture Now Collective took part in a hunger strike outside Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye’s electorate office, commenting “We will not tolerate these cuts and will do everything in our power to stop them.”
Also protesting were 500 motorcyclists from throughout the South Island who converged on ACC minister Nick Smith’s electorate office in Nelson. ACC levies for motorcyclists were set to increase 300%. Steve Page, president of the Route 6 Motorcycle Club said he had not given a “fat rat’s bum” about protesting for anything in the past, but the ACC levies were different. Everyone in the workforce is going to be hit with an increase in levies, but part time, seasonal and casual workers will have reduced coverage. ACC payouts will be calculated using the average of their yearly earnings rather than the previous four weeks’ earnings. Even Horticulture New Zealand is opposing this change, concerned it will deter people from taking on seasonal work. The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) has raised concern that this policy would also penalise low paid education workers; teacher aides, librarians and office managers who do not get paid during the school holidays. Free physiotherapy will end, and this is a move that seems odd from a government which is also, through welfare reform, ‘encouraging’ the sick and infirm back into the waged workforce.
The goal of all of this appears to be the preparing of ACC for privatisation. Under the proposed changes the scheme would be opened up to competition from the private sector would shift accident compensation closer to a ‘user pays’ model.