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Smith Says He Never Said He Was Asked To Stand In

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Nick Smith
Nick Smith

Wellington, April 2 NZPA - ACC chairman John Judge today cast doubt on whether he asked ACC Minister Nick Smith to act on his behalf at a parliamentary committee.

Dr Smith told NZPA tonight he had never said Mr Judge asked him to appear at the committee meeting.

"I never said I was there acting for him," Dr Smith said.

Mr Judge was making his first appearance before Parliament's transport and industrial relations committee as ACC board chairman following his appointment last month after Ross Wilson was sacked.

The timing and process of Mr Wilson's sacking and Mr Judge's subsequent appointment was the subject of a complaint to Speaker Lockwood Smith. The complaint was subsequently dismissed.

Labour alleged Dr Smith misled the House -- which is against Parliament's rules -- by saying on March 12 that he had appeared before the committee that same day because Mr Judge was not available.

Labour said Dr Smith had been told by the Labour Department on March 11 he had not correctly sacked outgoing board chairman Ross Wilson. That meant Mr Wilson was still legally chairman and Mr Judge was not appointed.

But Dr Smith said tonight he announced Mr Judge's appointment on a Monday and Mr Judge did not come to Wellington to sign the letter of acceptance until Friday of that week.

"It's the normal process of appointment. What's the big deal?" Dr Smith said.

Mr Judge today told the committee he was not sure when he was officially appointed.

However, he made it clear to Dr Smith that he could not appear before the committee on March 12 because of a prior commitment; he was "freezing myself to death riding into a headwind on the (Central Otago) rail trail".

He had told Dr Smith before being appointed he would not be available that week as "I had a long-standing arrangement to do parts of the rail trail with my wife and two friends and I intended to keep that".

In Parliament today the committee's chairman, David Bennett, said that to his knowledge no invitations were issued for the meeting.

"It was agreed the minister would attend that meeting, which does not necessarily mean the minister was replacing Mr Judge," Mr Bennett said.

"The agreement was between myself and the was agreed the minister would attend due to the reconfiguration of the board."

At today's committee meeting Labour MP Trevor Mallard asked Mr Judge whether he specially asked Dr Smith to act for him.

"There is actually quite an important constitutional issue ... you have no memory of asking him to act for you?"

Mr Judge: "I doubt if I would have used those specific words.

"To put this in context, I was sitting in the middle of a reasonable party with half a dozen people in St Bathans (in Otago) at the time.

"I certainly didn't write down exactly what I said. I had no idea that it would have caused this controversy.

"I certainly asked him to appear here and to convey my apologies."

Mr Judge told the committee that before accepting the role he established that the Government and Dr Smith were committed to maintaining a "24/7 no fault ACC scheme".

He was assured they were.

"In fact, I would not have taken the job had it been otherwise," he said.

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