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Public Will Have A Say On ACC Changes

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Peter Wilson of NZPA

Wellington, Oct 28 NZPA - The public will get a chance to have a say on the Government's changes to ACC when a parliamentary committee calls for submissions on the bill.

The Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill passed its first reading yesterday on a vote of 69 to 53 after a tense debate.

The bill raises levies and cuts some entitlements, measures ACC Minister Nick Smith says are essential to deal with huge deficits.

That is fiercely disputed by Labour and the Greens but it was the Government's clear intention to open the work account to private competition, announced last week, that raised the most strenuous complaints.

"This is such a fundamental assault on the principles of the ACC scheme that its future is now at serious risk," said Labour's ACC spokesman David Parker.

"It is the best accident insurance scheme in the world...it is cheaper than Australia's and has wider scope."

Green MP Sue Bradford said ACC was holding more assets than at any time since its inception and the Government's arguments about its viability were based on a false premise.

"The Government is creating the notion of impossibly huge deficits...in almost every respect this bill is a shocker."

Dr Smith opened the debate, saying that in the 2008/09 financial year ACC showed a loss of $4.8 billion on top of a $2.4b loss the previous year.

"Over the past four years ACC's unfunded liabilities -- the difference between its liabilities and assets, has grown from $4b to $13b," he said.

"The underlying problem is that ACC has drifted from being a state insurer to a welfare provider."

Dr Smith said the bill wound back the previous Labour government's "add-ons" to gain genuine savings and the Government remained committed to the core concepts of a 24/7, no fault insurance scheme.

ACT MP Sir Roger Douglas said the bill didn't go far enough.

"All it does is manage the pay out system and little differently," he said.

"There's nothing substantial in this."

Sir Roger said ACC was flawed from the outset, a pay-as-you-go scheme which worked until long-term entitlements started to increase.

"If insurance companies had books like ACC they would be declared bankrupt," he said.

Maori Party MPs voted for the bill on its first reading but haven't given the Government any assurances about backing it further down the track.

National, ACT, the Maori Party and United Future supported it on the first reading.

Labour, the Greens and the Progressive Party opposed it.

It has been sent to the transport and industrial relations select committee for public submissions, likely to open within a few weeks.

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