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Burton Clause Raises Ire

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Dec 3 NZPA - A "Graeme Burton" clause in ACC legislation to stop criminals getting payouts has been slammed by the Human Rights Commission, the Automobile Association and the New Zealand Council of Christian Services.

The three groups were among submitters who appeared this morning before Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee, which is considering a bill changing ACC.

One measure is to cut back entitlements for prisoners who injure themselves while committing a crime. At the moment they get medical treatment and rehabilitation in prison but no payments. However when they leave prison they can be eligible for financial assistance. ACC can apply to the courts to deny it but that is seldom successful.

Under the bill people sentenced for offences punishable by two years in jail or more, including reckless, dangerous and aggravated careless driving offences, do not get payments.

The move followed outrage over double murderer Graeme Burton, whose leg was amputated after being shot by police while on the run, receiving a $10,000 leg which was paid for by taxpayers.

Under the change Burton would get treatment but no new leg. However a basic model was likely to be funded some other way. Had he been in work at the time of the offence he may have got weekly payments but under the bill would not.

HRC commissioner Jeremy Pope said excluding people from the scheme undermined it and was a "gross denial of rights".

"I am appalled when I see certain people as beneficiaries under ACC but I recognise that the alternatives are worse. The moment we start to pick and choose we are in trouble."

Mr Pope said society needed to put up with occasional and rare cases where people who should not gain from ACC did.

AA general manager for motoring affairs Mike Noon suggested excluding aggravated careless driving from the bill, "or recognising mitigating circumstances as provided in the current Act, or otherwise only apply the clause to imposed sentences of two years or more rather than punishable sentences."

AA senior policy analyst Mark Stockdale said there were 7441 careless driving convictions in 2007, but he did not know what proportion of those were considered aggravated or had resulted in ACC payments.

"But the test for the public is `would it be repugnant for someone convicted of aggravated careless driving to be denied ACC?'

"Any right thinking person would agree that this clause as drafted should apply to people like Graeme Burton... However the same people may not agree that someone like Geoff Eades should also be automatically disentitled to ACC."

Eades was driving when his car hit a power pole in Christchurch killing three family members. He had only been in the country three days and had had long days visiting a sick relative in hospital.

Eades was charged with three counts of careless driving causing death, but not aggravated careless driving which would have cut his entitlement to ACC under the bill.

"We don't know what it would take for someone to be charged with aggravated careless driving which is not a deliberate offence," Mr Stockdale said.

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services also said it was wrong to take the entitlement away from some people but National MP Tau Henare accused them of failing to show compassion for victims.

"I hope one day you are on the side of somebody really really hurt in the community by somebody that needs to be locked up," he said.

Council executive officer Trevor McGlinchey said the injured should be treated whoever they were.

Meanwhile the AA said it cautiously supported risk rating for vehicles but not for drivers as there was no fair way of doing it.

The AA supported higher levies for motorcyclists but said they should be phased in and suggested an approved training course for motorcyclists which would give those who passed a levy discount.

HRC chief commissioner Judy McGregor said there appeared to be two breaches of the Human Rights Act in the bill regarding limiting entitlements for people with lower levels of hearing loss and for some young people on the minimum wage.

Other concerns included reduction in compensation for seasonal and part time workers -- possibly affecting 400,000 people.

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