Terror in Chch

Greens back ACC cover for terror victims

The Green Party says mosque shooting victims with mental trauma should be covered by ACC. David Williams reports.

In December 2007, during the final term of the Helen Clark-led Government, Green Party MP Sue Bradford rose to her feet in Parliament. MPs were debating the first reading of a bill to change the law governing the country’s no-fault accident compensation scheme, ACC.

The Greens supported the bill being referred to a select committee, but wanted improvements. ACC cover was to be extended to those suffering mental injury caused by a traumatic event while at work. “We think that this bill should go a lot further,” Bradford said, flagging a return to the position before the National Party’s reforms in the 1990s. “The Green Party believes, in fact, that cover should be broadened out to include all mental injury covered by accident, work-related gradual process disease or infection, or treatment.”

The Green Party’s policy is similar today – that ACC cover for mental health support should not be dependent on someone being physically injured or being at work when an accident happens.

It should be no surprise, then, that the Greens have broken ranks with their coalition partners to say it was wrong for ministers to veto an extension to ACC coverage for victims of the March 15 terror attacks who were mentally traumatised but not physically injured.

Victims should get ACC help: Logie

The party’s ACC spokeswoman, Jan Logie, a list MP, says in a statement: “At its core, the ACC is supposed to deliver universal no-fault accident insurance. We know that victims of the Christchurch mosque attack were not at fault and that they have incurred great mental harm, regardless of whether they were physically hurt. They should receive assistance for that.”

(Newsroom called Logie to get her to expand on those views, but she didn’t respond. In particular, we wanted to ask if the Greens were agitating for ministers to overturn their decision, and if the Green Party was even consulted.)

The opposition National Party’s view is more nuanced. Its ACC spokesman Tim Macindoe, the MP for Hamilton West, says via email that the uniqueness and severity of the twin mosque attacks warranted the Government considering a way to help more people dealing with mental trauma.

“So I will be looking closely into why they now appear to have ruled [extending ACC] out,” he says.

“There may be a case for creating a special circumstance that would allow ACC to respond more compassionately to mental health trauma arising from acts of terrorism, but a lot of work would need to be done beforehand to define what this would mean and to consider the implications of such a policy change.”

He’s formulating a policy option which he hopes to take to caucus colleagues ahead of next year’s general election. But it’s a tricky issue, he says, and may prove unaffordable.

(In Tuesday’s story, New Zealand First’s Jenny Marcroft was adamant politicians had the welfare of attack victims at the heart of their decision.)

Victim of a broader strategy?

It’s not clear who blocked ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s proposal for an extension to ACC for mentally traumatised terror victims. The plan, taken to Cabinet’s business committee in April, was rejected in favour of support from the Ministry of Social Development. (TVNZ’s John Campbell posited Treasury might have become involved.)

However, if an extension of ACC cover to terror victims was scotched because of some wider strategy to include all mental illness in the scheme – because such an ad hoc move might muddy the waters of a major reform – that would disappoint some advocates for the change.

In their view, denying the extension entrenches an inherent injustice to all, rather than providing a just and humane response to the victims of a heinous attack.

Wellington lawyer Warren Forster is, through a Law Foundation international research fellowship, developing a plan to expand ACC coverage. He has put together a discussion paper and an online survey about a future system, which has had just under 1000 responses.

Forster says there’s strong support for expanding ACC and having a “single system” that plugs the gaps of the compensation, health and disability systems. “This is under active political consideration.”

Possible election issue

Lees-Galloway has said in Parliament that some members of the public are demanding comprehensive changes to ACC, because of the state it was left in by the previous National-led government.

He told Newsroom earlier this week that there are no plans to undertake an ACC reform in this political term. But that doesn’t rule out major changes being announced ahead of the next election.

The Government is yet to respond to an OECD report, released last year, that recommended the Government consider reforming ACC to expand its coverage to illness.

There may well be cross-party support for the idea. Last December, documents leaked to the Weekend Herald detailing areas of special interest for the National Party in the lead-up to the 2020 election. One of them was extending ACC to victims of illness as well as accidents.

But there’s still bickering and political point-scoring. Lees-Galloway has pointed to its “record $1.9 billion mental health package” in the so-called Wellbeing Budget as a sign of the Government investing in mental health care. However, Macindoe, of the National Party, suggests that denying an extension to ACC for terror victims doesn’t fit with its claim to be a Government that is serious about kindness and wellbeing.

Figures provided by Lees-Galloway’s office in response to Parliamentary questions show that the number of new claims approved for cover that include a mental injury rose from 1683 claims in 2014 to 2291 last year. Over the same period, the number of claims for mental injury cover that were declined rose from 3189 claims to 6785.

The cost of claims declined from $63.1 million in 2014 to $19.4 million last year. Lees-Galloway’s office notes that costs are recorded against the year the claim was lodged, suggesting many claims extend over multiple years.

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