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ACC Crisis - What Crisis?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

ACC Minister Nick Smith's announcement of cuts to ACC entitlements and levy hikes shows that we are all about to pay for years of deliberate government underfunding of ACC.

Ever since the Fourth National Government (under Jim Bolger) decided to change ACC by virtual fiat in the early 1990s to alleviate the so called high costs to employers of the scheme, it has been virtually underfunded. While the previous Labour Government tinkered at the margins by creating new entitlements (e.g. for the families of suicide victims) and re-nationalised the earners account, nothing was done to alleviate the cruel treatment meted out to long term claimants (otherwise known in ACC jargon as 'the tail') who were subjected to subtle pressure to exit the scheme before they were ready to return to work by ACC staff.

What the Government's announcement has signalled is a large-scale return to the 1990s regime where ACC eligibility is further tightened up and entitlements are reigned in while increased levies are passed onto motorists and workers but not onto larger businesses or wealthy individuals.

That's why I believe that this so called 'crisis' has been manufactured in the same way as the devaluation crisis of 1984 and the BNZ crisis of 1990 were. These two crises were used to justify the respective introduction and then intensification of New Right reforms. In essence, this crisis has been induced through years of deliberate underfunding by both National and Labour administrations of ACC. It was they who both refused to hike levies on businesses or the well-off and preferred to reduce them for these groups instead.

The changes signalled by the ACC Minister are nothing but a monstrous attack on both ACC levy payers and clients. They have been designed to fatten up the corporation (over time) for eventual privatisation and if any evidence is needed of their intentions, then plans to contract out the case management of long-term ACC clients to a private provider should send chills up the spines of clients with high needs accident-acquired disability. It is likely that this group will be transferred to the WINZ benefit system and/or forced to work in menial jobs for low wages. Furthermore, cuts to entitlements such as home help, personal care and home alterations for those who acquire disability through accident will see many more ACC clients shunted off onto the health system for their ongoing disability support needs and at a time when the taxpayer funded Disability Support Services (DSS) budget is similarly overstretched due to underfunding.

As for the proposed consultation, well, it will be another one of those 'Clayton's consultations' where any adverse feedback will be ignored. I will bet though that the neoliberal aligned interest groups such as the employers and big business will get a good hearing compared to the unions, social agencies, disability groups and, most importantly of all, ACC consumer groups such as ACClaim. Hence, ordinary workers and ACC claimants will get shafted in favour of the business lobby when this sham consultation comes around.

That's why I call upon all concerned people to boycott this process and start protesting, petitioning and sending emails and letters to both the ACC Minister and Prime Minister instead. Exerting popular pressure on our politicians, unelected officials and big business players to stop playing around with ACC is something that needs to be done.

If anything, I'm not having a bar of Prime Minister John Key's invitation to a 'sensible conversation' on ACC. This is mere PR bullshit and should be seen for what it is.

That's why I'm thinking ACC crisis - what crisis? After all, it's a deliberately manufactured one! 

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