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How the government, rounding up, and the cost of shipping are adding to the escalating cost of living in New Zealand

How the government, rounding up, and the cost of shipping are adding to escalating costs in New Zealand

The elimination of the 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins - and rounding up

One of the government driven definitive steps towards increasing the cost of living for ordinary people in New Zealand - was the elimination of the one cent and two cent piece as currency. 

Prior to 10 July 1967, the New Zealand pound (using the £sd system) was the currency of New Zealand. Coins of the pound tend to follow the size, weight, and composition of their British counterparts. 

The New Zealand currency changed from the pound system to the New Zealand dollar system on 10 July 1967.  On the same day, new decimal coins were introduced to replace the existing pound coins. The first coins of the New Zealand dollar were 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, and 50 cents. 

In 1988 the New Zealand government ceased minting the 1 and 2 cent coins, and as of 1 May 1990, they were no longer legal tender. They stopped being produced on the basis that inflation had lowered the value of the New Zealand dollar. Hmmm...

What happened of course was that the smallest currency was the 5 cent piece - and thus began the business of "rounding up" the price of everything to the nearest 5 cents.

Then, on 1 November 2006, the 5 cent coin bit the dust and no longer became legal tender. So the rounding of prices of goods and services up to the nearest 10 cents commenced.

Common sense indicates that eliminating lower value coinage and rounding up, inevitably increased prices New Zealanders paid for goods or services.

It can certainly argued that carrying a pile of small denomination coins around was a bit of a nuisance for the public and retailers. 

Some might claim that for an expensive item, this rounding to the nearest 10 cents is inconsequential. But for everyone, the consequence of rounding up is cumulative, and for people on a low income - every little bit counts. All those less than 10 cents amounts add up.

This rounding should only apply to cash transactions, but is that always the case, and will it remain limited to cash? Only time will tell.

The long and short of it is that the New Zealand government has imposed rounding up to the nearest 10 cents - and this has resulted in increased prices for New Zealanders.

Rounding up the weight (and hence the price) of shipping parcels in New Zealand

New Zealand Post is a state owned enterprise - owned by the New Zealand government. The government is funded by the public and is supposed to act in the interest of the public, and protect the public from predatory practices by business and industry. 

But when the government goes into business with the goal to make a profit, the government can become the biggest predator of all.

I can't find it on the web site - but if you read the Sending made simple brochure produced by NZ Post - under "Larger Parcels" - you get an interesting insight into how NZ Post (a government run business) deals with rounding.

If you send a parcel in New Zealand:"You will be charged the greater of: 

The actual weight of your parcel (as determined by our scales), rounded to the nearest 5kg, or 

The volumetric weight of your parcel, rounded to the nearest 5kg."

How would you like to buy 500 grams (i.e. 1.1 pounds) of meat and have the weight (and price) rounded up to the nearest 5 kg (i.e. 11 pounds)?

This is not a rhetorical question. All goods must be shipped. The price of shipping (even using shippers other than the post office) is already affected by the consequences of currency rounding. Once the government establishes a trend, you can be sure that other shippers will eventually follow with alacrity.

Let's do a test to see the difference in the cost of domestic shipping by regular (standard) post in New Zealand versus domestic shipping costs by standard post elsewhere.

We'll use these measurements: 50 cm x 41 cm x 30 cm (the size of the biggest box sold by NZ Post) - weight 1 kg:

Auckland NZ to Christchurch NZ (~ 764 km) by NZ Post 

Cost - $39.60 ($41.10 with tracking and an extra $2.80 if to a rural address) 

Sydney Australia to Hobart Australia by Australian Post (~ 1059 km) 

Cost - $14.85 (No extra charges. Tracking included).  

Maine USA to Kona, Hawaii USA (~ 8197 km) by US Postal Service 

Cost - $12.78 (No extra charges. I can't tell whether tracking is included) 

Victoria BC Canada to St. John's Nfld Canada (~ 5,078 km) 

Cost - $29.68 (No extra charges. Tracking included)

Distances as calculated here: 

Shipping costs are barriers to domestic (as well as international) trade; and consequently influence a country's economy. 

Excess shipping costs add to the cost of living for consumers directly (when they have to ship something) and indirectly when they buy something that has to be shipped from somewhere else (which includes just about everything). Shipping costs by freight are also abnormally high in New Zealand

NZ Post's rounding policies for shipping domestic parcels is truly mind-boggling.
NZ Post domestic shipping needs to be brought in line with more reasonable domestic rates that exist in other countries for services that traverse a much larger distance.

The NZ government should be encouraging domestic businesses and trade. It is important for employment and the economy. Avaricious postal and freight charges (by government or private enterprises) do not help.

An opportunity for genuine investigative journalists

It is suggested that investigative journalists look into the finances of NZ Post - in detail. You won't find out what is really happening in the Annual Reports.

The NZ Post Annual Reports have a lot of advertising spin. 

The financial report section obfuscates where New Zealand Post's money comes from and where it goes. The income and cost of postal services is not separated from the cost of its banking services or the other businesses in which NZ Post is involved. Where are the stats differentiating operational (based upon the types of serve) versus administrative costs? Given there is a clear difference in letter versus parcel mail - there ought to be a better breakdown in cost versus income of these 2 services too.

 Some of NZ Post's profits (to 2008) can be found here - but it is unclear just what has been included to obtain the figures. 
The NZ Post "Group" (whatever that entails) reported profits as follows: 
2008 - $110,168,000 
2007 - $86,787,000 
2006 - $68,656,000 
2005 - $137,233,000 (It sold the assets of its courier business to ECL in Dec 2004) 
2004 - $36,523,000
This profit is different from that reported for the Guarantor - but in all cases profit in the $millions has been reported, yet the price of postage and shipping has increased.

Staffing and services are being cut. Where are the stats on staffing by type of service (and pay ranges)?

NZ Posts Annual Reports gives large numbers in relation to letter mail - but does not distinguish between what "mail" is real letter mail versus non-addressed advertising junk mail. It is equally unexplained how many parcels are sent by regular post versus courier.

NZ Post's history and current situation with regard to it's shipping / courier services, as well as it's banking services needs to be looked into. 

It's taken as a given that the volume of real mail is dramatically reducing everywhere in the world due to the rise of digital communication. Shipping has not suffered the same fate, nor is it likely to do so. Because the cost of shipping is so important to the economy - and because arguably shipping should be a primary focus of NZ postal services - a thorough independent investigation is warranted.

Lost Mail - and rounding up volumes to hide losses

Another thing that warrants closer scrutiny by investigative journalists is lost mail. 

In 2012, Alanah Eriksen reported in The New Zealand Herald that more than 1,000 letters or packages sent through New Zealand Post are reported lost in the mail every week. Figures obtained by the Herald showed 55,087 reported cases of undelivered mail (6,045 more than the previous year). Of those 678 were cheques. $452,235.62 was paid by NZ Post to customers for lost mail in 2012.

In defense of this amazing statistic - a spokeswoman for NZ Post said that 834.5 million items were delivered in the year 2012 to June 30 (an average of 16 million a week.) 

This brings us back to the lack of transparency in NZ Post's Annual Reports. 

NZ Post does not discriminate between real addressed mail versus unaddressed junk mail in it's statistics. 

It would be extraordinarily improbable that New Zealand (which had only ~4.4 million people in 2012) would have sent 834.5 million pieces of addressed mail. That would average almost 190 pieces of mail per every living person - many of whom, due to age, illness or education etc could neither read not write or are plain uninterested in written communication. Given we live in a digital era where most communication and major payments are digital - that statistic was likely "rounding up" spin to wiggle out of the negative exposure over the extent of lost mail. 

Only someone with a mental health problem (or an irate advertiser) would complain about lost junk mail. 

To know you lost mail, you had to know mail was sent and did not arrive, or were expecting it and it did not arrive. Social communication is often sent without warning that it is coming, so will not be missed if it does not arrive. Then there is the fact that only a certain portion of people will bother going through the bureaucratic hoops to register a complaint about lost mail. 

In other words the extent of mail lost by NZ Post is likely much greater than 1,000 pieces of mail a day because:
  1. The more than 1,000 pieces of lost mail a week is likely proportionally of greater significance than NZ Post let on - because it likely related to real addressed mail and parcels (versus all mail which includes large volumes of junk mail) and
  2. The amount reported lost is likely only a percentage of lost mail owing to the tendency of many people not to follow through with a complaint.
  3. Besides lost checks, lost parcels are liable to draw complaints. The number of parcels is much fewer than the claimed letter mail - so, proportionally losses of large number of parcels would be more significant.
One of the reasons it is likely that mail gets lost is because NZ Post is so focused on the financial side of "business" - it has forgotten it's core mission as a postal service. 

The general public don't typically have access to postal look-up services at their finger-tips. Real addressed mail is sufficiently uncommon that many people probably don't know their correct full mailing address or that of their friends or family etc - nor know why it is important.

Besides the fact that many people have the same or similar names - there are many addresses in New Zealand where street names are the same. There are other oddities where the numbering system of the same street (e.g. Great South Rd in Auckland) changes depending on what suburb it runs through. Any half way decent address look up software program could help staff and customers choose the right address. 

Do the hard-working staff of NZ Post have such a basic tool as an up to date digital name / address / postal code look up program - something one would expect would be core info for a postal service. No, at least not anything that works. They have to look up postal codes in a hard copy book - an amazingly old-fashioned and slow method. NZ Post could provide good customer service and mitigate against lost mail if they had a digital address look up program on hand for the staff to access that could digitally match street addresses with postal codes.

In addition, tracking is an add-on cost for parcels in New Zealand. It shouldn't be. There would be a reduction in claims (or at least more clear evidence of who is likely at fault) if all parcels had a tracking code.

Then there is the fate of "undeliverable" mail. 
"Mail items get returned to us for many different reasons, including when someone has moved and there is no forwarding address, the address is incorrect or a PO Box is no longer in use," said NZ Post spokeswoman Jaimee Burke.

In 2012, Russell Blackstock of the NZ Herald reported that New Zealand Post has been selling off people's lost and undeliverable items - and keeping the cash.

Apparently a mountain of parcels and letters which cannot be delivered are stored by NZ Post annually. 

Items of value are held for three months before being sold off at national auction house Turners, the company has admitted. (This means that undeliverable mail is opened). 

won't go into the potential of theft of valuable items - but it should be clear that tracking would likely help find the culprits when this occurs too.

In 2011-2012, NZ Post apparently bagged just short of $44,000 from auctioning about 6,000 items and selling some goods on Trade Me.

The question is - is NZ Post's failure to provide an adequate digital service to improve accuracy with regard to postal addresses, simply a result of inexplicably over-looking an obvious solution to mitigate lost mail; or the result of a "We don't give a damn about the customers. Let them sort it." attitude - or is it part of a business plan to take advantage of errors the public makes when addressing parcels (the latter is hopefully unlikely, because if it was true there would be another scandal for the government to contend with).

Whatever is behind it - the culture that thinks that the loss of more than 1,000 pieces of addressed mail a week is of insufficient consequence to address - needs to be reminded that that isn't true.

Postal and freight services, particularly accurate cost-efficient and economical parcel services are important for any economy.

Breaking Even versus Making a Profit

NZ Post is a state owned enterprise owned by the New Zealand government. It's goal is to make a profit rather than breaking even. It is argued that government is a publicly funded service provider that should operate on a break even basis - not operate as a predatory profit making organization at the public's expense.

It is not possible for any service that has been operating on a break even basis to become profitable without one or more of these things happening:

1. The price of the service goes up. 

(It's happened and is on-going with regard to postal services) 
As of July 2014, the cost of sending a medium sized letter by standard post within New Zealand - will rise by 10 cents.
The postage required to send aerogrammes, postcards and medium and large letters to any destination overseas will increase by 10 cents.
The price to send extra large and oversize letters overseas will increase by between 10 cents and 30 cents depending on the destination.
Parcels sent overseas will increase by an average of 4%
The excuse for these large hikes - 
"New Zealand Post is working more efficiently and will continue to find savings but the increase in postage is also necessary to maintain a national postal service in the face of higher costs, more delivery points and lower mail volumes."

But NZ Post reports that it makes $millions a year in profit.

See more on the latest hikes in postal rates by NZ Post here:  

2. Services decrease 

(It's happened and is on-going)
Check out the plans for this year and the historical changes. 
There is no option to ship by sea. This year NZ Post is eliminating shipping by International Economy. 
Offices are closing. Services are being reduced.

3. Staffing is cut, adding to unemployment. 

(More of this in the works)

4. Maintenance decreases and infrastructure deteriorates leading to a major failure 

5. Money is made (or lost) on investments of the profit

The media should be looking into and thoroughly analyzing what has been happening (and has happened) with all of New Zealand's - State Owned Enterprises (particularly ACC and NZ Post) - not swallowing the PR spin documents published by them at face value; and not blindly publishing PR releases as if the content represents the true story. 

Twisting the truth is the norm with PR spin, particularly when large amounts of money are involved - and annual reports may be part of the spin. The data presented in them is often manipulated by government (business or industry) to rationalize charging the public more. 

We are living in an era of deception and spin. 
It is essential that any info presented in annual reports be critically reviewed - not swallowed as gospel truth.

Breathless and Burdened - Machiavellian legal tactics and medical bias in the insurance and mining industries

Breathless and Burdened

Machiavellian legal tactics and medical bias

in the insurance and mining industries 

Breathless and Burdened - the year long investigative journalism series that won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism by the Centre of Public Integrity - Chris Hamby - has features in common with what has been going on at ACC.
Hamby's year long investigation examined how doctors and lawyers, working at the behest of the coal industry, have helped defeat the benefits claims of miners sick and dying of black lung, even as disease rates are on the rise and an increasing number of miners are turning to a system that was supposed to help alleviate their suffering.
The legal aspects of this story can be found at these two links:
All insurance lawyers and insurance advocates are urged to read this series because these practices by insurance companies; and by legal services within the insurance company itself as well as by their contracted legal services, are likely widespread - and almost certainly are utilized by ACC.
This Pulitzer Prize winning series shows that the 3 main legal tricks which were used by the mining and insurance industry to wrongfully deny claimants benefits were:
1. Withholding of key evidence
2. Presenting incomplete or potentially misleading information.
3. Conceding the case, rendering disclosure moot, in order to keep their actions and the company's actions secret.
ACC has been accused of withholding key evidence by many people. Besides completely withholding information and denying the existence of information that anyone with a grey cell would know they have (if they have not destroyed it) - ACC redacts information without reasonable justification. At Appeal ACC sends documents directly to the court but the claimant does not get a copy of those records - so does not know what documents were included, and consequently cannot know what relevant information was excluded. In addition, the statistics indicate that often ACC concedes after dragging out the legal process, and commonly then refuses to backdate compensation.

What the Breathless and Burdened series showed was that what is in common in each of these cases is: Manipulation of Evidence.

New Zealand's Privacy Commissioner has failed to adequately address this matter. To the contrary, officials from the NZ Privacy Commissioner's office have given government employees instructions to create separate records so they can withhold and redact evidence.

In a  presentation by Mike Flahive and Dawn Swan of the office of the Privacy Commissioner at the 2012 Privacy forum,  there is a slide called: "Managing Access requests"

This says:
"Anticipate having to explain what you have done. 
A discovery process of indexing documents would be handy. 
Create separate record of total information 
Create separate record of withheld/redacted information"

So the office of the Privacy Commissioner is aiding and abetting government employees (including employees of ACC) to act in secret.

Well what about the Ombudsman? you might ask. There's no joy there either because it would appear that the Ombudsman's office is geared to protect government employees from the public - not the public from wrong-doing of government employees.

The office of the Ombudsman has produced a step-by-step guide to stone-walling complaints by the public. It's not called that of course. It's called "Managing unreasonable complainant conduct". 

If you read the manual - you will find that unreasonable complainant conduct is defined as: "any behavior by a current or former complainant which, because of its nature or frequency, raises substantial health, safety, resource or equity issues for the parties to a complaint." While the parties to the complaint includes the complainants - make no mistake - the Ombudsman appears to deem complainants as villains who make the life of bureaucrats difficult by refusing to take what has been dished out to them without complaint and by their persistent efforts to be treated fairly.


Breathless and Burdened, ACC - and Medical Bias

The Breathless and Burdened investigation disclosed more than legal trickery to decline miner's claims.

They also found evidence that the mining industry had preferred medical providers.

To diagnose pneumoconiosis (black lung disease cause by exposure to coal) a radiologist was required to report the miners' xrays.

One radiologist who apparently was amongst those most preferred by the mining industry, found not a single case of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which he offered an opinion. In court testimony, this radiologist said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung (a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program) was in "the 1970's or the early 80's.”

In this series, the reports of the xrays reported by that radiologist were apparently reviewed by other radiologists - and in many instances the specialists differed in their opinion. The mining company's preferred radiologist claimed he was right regardless, and that miners would have to go through a lung biopsy (which can be more hazardous in people with severe lung disease) to prove him wrong. According to the report some of the miners who proceeded to have a biopsy (a potentially hazardous procedure) - were found to have black lung disease.

The investigation report also indicated that radiology experts at other universities, including the University of Cincinnati, Washington University in St. Louis and Case Western Reserve University also tended to submit opinions that often favored coal companies.

At John Hopkins, it was part of the radiologists' jobs to provide interpretations for coal companies. The coal companies were willing to pay top dollar for a report from one of these doctors. Lawyers who represent miners said the doctors they used charge between $65 and $100 to read an X-ray. This is quite different from radiologists representing the mining industry. 
John Hopkins charged $100 to read an X-ray with no abnormalities; the rate rose to $750 if there were markings to be interpreted, (as is the case in the bulk of black lung cases). When radiologists testify for mining companies, they charge $500 - $750 an hour. 

It is unclear, but it has been suggested that the university took a substantial cut of the medical fees paid to the radiologists. According to the report, during a deposition in a case decided in 2009, a doctor no longer at the university testified that radiologists received bonuses for being “productive.” (The university responded, claiming “There are no financial incentives associated with this program for our B-readers or the radiology department. There are no bonuses or other salary supplements paid to doctors related to the volume of examinations read, expert testimony, or other aspects of the B-reader program at Johns Hopkins.”

Following the Centre for Public Integrity / ABC investigation, John Hopkins suspended it's black lung program.

Besides doctors specialized in radiology, the mining industry also used preferred medical assessors who assessed the miners. These preferred medical assessors (who were transported to do assessments), and for a number of whom their main work involved doing mining industry assessments - also tended to come to the conclusion that the miners respiratory problems were due to some other problem, rather than the coal dust to which they had been exposed.

US mining industry preferred medical assessors were reported to charge up to $2,500 per exam (including preparation of a written report), and as much as $700 an hour to review records or testify in depositions. 

Based on data supplied in parliament by NZ Greens MP - Kevin Hague - and other corroborative information - it would appear probable that at least some of ACC's preferred medical assessors have been paid even more than that. 

While some assessments may have been appropriate - this pattern of preferential use and high pay is not evidence of impartial, objective medical assessment; and should be of major concern to medical councils (including the Medical Council of New Zealand.) It is unfair to patients/clients, and casts doctors in a bad light. 

Frequent use of the same medical assessors (especially if they are transported to areas where similar specialists exist) and a high rate of pay for services that is well beyond the norm for other doctors - lays the psychological groundwork for the expectation that these medical assessors will continue to come to conclusions in the payer's interests - rather than be objective and impartial in their assessment and conclusion.


In the United States, the Breathless and Burdened series resulted in legal reform. 

How can this happen here when the culprit is a government business - and the Privacy Commissioner and Ombudsman are focussed on protecting government employees and protecting the government from embarrassment, rather than acting on behalf of the public?

There is a need for people with a moral backbone and integrity to rectify this situation. 

An independent inquiry into ACC and DRSL - like the former Trapski Inquiry into ACC would appear to be indicated. 
Here is a link to the report of the Inquiry into the Procedures of the Accident Compensation Corporation by Peter J Trapski:

Whether a morally bereft government would initiate such an inquiry; and whether it would be truly independent, given that the Minister of ACC and the Minister of Justice are the same person (she almost certainly has been in ACC's information loop, given ACC's Government Services passes anything that might cause a whiff of negative press to her office) - is highly questionable.

Goodness is about character - integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.

- Dennis Prager

Busted - The insurance industry generated myth that insurance companies have unrestricted totalitarian power over accessing and use of their client's information.

Busted - The insurance industry generated myth that insurance companies have unrestricted totalitarian power over accessing and use of their client's information.

The failure in the NZ District Court of ACC's policy of forcing claimants to provide unrestricted consent is also a win for privacy advocates everywhere.

ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) is New Zealand's state-owned accident and medical malpractice insurance company.

Two recent successful District Court Appeals (one being - NZACC 89, ACR 243/10, judgement date 4 April 2014, heard by Judge LG Powell) by ACC claimants against ACC's decision to stop entitlement because they refused to sign ACC's ACC167 authorization form - is a major victory for ACC claimants and privacy advocates everywhere - because it provides a reasonable legal precedent that insurance companies (including those run by government) do not have the right to demand unrestricted consent to collect information; nor the right to do whatever they want with it.

The ACC167 form required authorization to be given by the claimant for unspecified information to be collected, used and disclosed by ACC. If the claimant refused to give unrestricted consent because of the implications with regard to unwarranted invasion of privacy - this was used by ACC as an excuse to decline a claim or suspend entitlements. 

Many claimants would have signed the form just because they were told to do so, without realizing what it meant. Others would have signed it under duress because ACC made it clear to claimants that they must sign the form as is, with no alterations, or their benefit would be declined or suspended.

This decision does not mean that ACC claimants can refuse to provide consent for ACC to manage the claimant's entitlement to compensation, rehabilitation and medical treatment. Insurance companies need this data. But ACC is not entitled to carte blanche access to, and use of their claimant's information. 

This has been a win for the right to privacy and a win against bullying by government agencies.

The response from ACC and the government has been interesting. 

The Prime Minister responded by saying that the form was not illegal. There's political spin at work. In the ACR243/10 judgement, Judge Powell said: " will be important that a new consent form is developed as quickly as possible" which certainly conveys the clear impression that the judge considers the form inappropriate if not illegal. In addition, he makes it very clear: [49] "The respondent's decision to stop entitlements was therefore without basis and wrong in law."

The Minister of ACC, Judith Collins refused to comment, claiming that it was an operational matter. (Remember when election time comes - those politicians who have refused to be accountable for the failures of the organizations in their portfolio.) Given Judith Collins intervention in the Bain case, it remains to be seen whether she is so impervious to human rights - that she encourages ACC to challenge this decision in the High Court.

The drive for positive reform has to come from the very top. The "Who Me?" argument is not the response of a person who has the interests of the public at heart, or a willingness to follow through with positive reform.

Then there have been the "Woe is we" arguments by ACC that designing a flexible consent form is too much work. This is a pathetically weak excuse. Most health care providers have to obtain informed consent from patients/clients before accessing or releasing their data to others - that varies depending on the circumstances. 

If a busy GP or surgeon can obtain informed consent appropriate to the circumstances - why can't a multi-billion dollar organization like ACC do it?

There also needs to be more specific authorization regarding what ACC can do with information - because ACC has a very poor track record with regard to the privacy of claimants records.

Based upon the response to the Bronwyn Pullar scandal - under this government, the likelihood of having any positive change at ACC is slim.

In August 2011, ACC mailed a spreadsheet containing details of 6700 people, including 250 sexual abuse cases to ACC client Bronwyn Pullar.

Malcolm Crompton, the former Australian Privacy Commissioner brought in to conduct the investigation related to this, said: "Pullar has done the people of New Zealand a service by making sure we pay attention to the proper governance of private information."

His comments follow the release of a damning review of privacy at ACC released by Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff.
Shroff said the release of private information was genuine human error, but, according to feedback to investigators from interested parties, there was an "almost cavalier" attitude at ACC towards protection of clients' private information.
No one in their right mind - in this era of government over-reach and slackness wants any government agency to be able to do whatever they want with their information, without any restrictions.

After the Bronwyn Pullar case - there was a lot of political posturing and so called privacy policies talked about - but most of the actual privacy changes seem to have been geared towards preventing the public from finding out what ACC and its staff have been doing - i.e. ACC's secrecy has expanded. 
The blatant disregard for claimant privacy evident in the ACC167 form shows that while ACC is super keen on its own privacy - claimants are fair game. This is not surprising because the person selected by ACC (if not the Minister herself) to oversee ACC's privacy issues was none other than the person who devised the infamous ACC - RIS Units and their Machiavellian strategies to disentitle claimants by fair means or foul.

The NZ District Court decision (which will hopefully serve to curtail bullying by ACC, and restrict ACC from forcing claimants to provide an unreasonable scope of authorization to ACC) comes at a time when The Washington Post and The Guardian (US) have been jointly named as the Gold Medal Award winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize - Public Service Award for their journalistic work that has resulted in public awareness of the scope of government violations of privacy, under the flimsy excuse of national security.


Here's a suggestion for an ACC Authorization form that covers the relevant matters.
  • Referral to a Medical Assessor (or other Assessor) should require specific authorization related to that Assessor and the reason for that assessment.
  • If required additional authorization could be negotiated at another time). 

(As you can see, it is not difficult to design a general authorization form that gets the job done with little input required from either party - but with clear intent.)

General Authorization
I authorize ACC to obtain relevant medical information from any health professional(s) involved in my care; and from any hospital or clinic I have attended for care in order to establish cover, entitlement and rehabilitation under this insurance policy for __________________________________ injury 

I authorize ACC to obtain relevant financial information needed for underwriting, administration and adjudicating claims from my accountant, employer or Internal Revenue Depart / IRD. 

I authorize ACC to release relevant information regarding me to appropriate staff members for the purposes of underwriting, administrating and adjudicating my claim. 

I agree that a photocopy or electronic version of the original authorization is as valid as the original and shall continue to have effect throughout the period specified in this authorization. 

This consent is given with the understanding that ACC will insure that my privacy will be respected; and any personal information it holds regarding me will be kept secure. 

Name:__________________________________Date:___________________________________Period of authorization:_____________________

Authorization for _________________ assessment
I authorize ACC to provide (name of assessor)  _______________________ with copies of my documents for the purposes of _______________________ assessment with regard to the following injury (ies): __________________________________________________________
The purpose of this assessment (ACC circles or ticks the correct option) is:
  • need or entitlement to medical treatment
  • need or entitlement to rehabilitation (_________________ type)
  • need or entitlement to vocational rehabilitation
  • medical review - to determine whether disability is related to covered injuries 

I want to be provided: (Claimant circles or ticks if they want this)
  • copies of all documents provided to the Assessor (including ACC's referral letter)
  • copies of the report
  • copies of the resume or CV of the Assessor.
I agree that a photocopy or electronic version of the original authorization is as valid as the original and shall continue to have effect throughout the period specified in this authorization. 

This consent is given with the understanding that ACC will insure that my privacy will be respected; and any personal information it holds regarding me will be kept secure. 
Name:__________________________________Date:___________________________________Period of authorization:_____________________

There is no extra-ordinary onus put on any insurance company, government agency, or any other institution to utilize informed consents such as provided in the example above. This is done in hospitals every day. It is no more of an onus on health professionals to obtain informed consent specific to the circumstances, than it is for a business such as an insurance company. It is done to protect the patient/client's privacy.

If the information sought is not routinely required or covered in the "normal" informed authorization such as in the examples above, then additional consent specific to the situation should be obtained.

The public has a fundamental right to privacy. ACC (or any government agency, insurance company or institution etc) has the obligation to prove that it is necessary for them to have a certain type of information in order to exercise a specific function related to the matter at issue - and therefore it is reasonable for them to ask for it, and it is reasonable for the individual to authorize them to have it. 

The primary onus should not be put on an individual to have to go into a legal battle agains a multi-billion dollar corporation to prove they should not have it. Because most individuals generally do not have the knowledge or determination to take on a behemoth business in court, so either will not be able to challenge them, or they lose - this situation invites opportunism by Machiavellian management who see this situation as a tool to cut costs.

It is a truly twisted system when an important human right such as privacy should be undermined in the interest of the convenience of a government run insurance business.

Unrestricted authorization to access or use personal information invites opportunistic misuse, abuse and serious consequences when human error or malicious acts affect an individual's data and their privacy.

BUSTED - The insurance industry generated myth that insurance companies should have unrestricted totalitarian power over access and use of their client's information.



Since this post was written The New Zealand Herald has reported that: ACC has given claim details of tens of thousands of people's injury claims every year to recruitment agencies and prospective employers.

According to ACC, in the past year, 36,000 requests were processed for claimant's claim details. It is unclear whether ACC was or was not pro-active in sending out this data.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said it is now a widespread practice for employers to seek access not only to a jobseeker's ACC records, but also to bank, credit and medical information.

The Human Rights Commission says employers should generally not ask jobseekers for authority to see their ACC claims history. Nor should they ask about any health or disability matter, because it is unlawful to discriminate on grounds of disability - unless it is directly relevant to the applicant's ability to do the job. 

The same generally applies to personal financial records.

It is certainly not appropriate to supply any of these details without the consent of the person whose information it is. ACC claims they did this with consent. Would this be the infamous blanket consent ACC167 "you'd better let us have all of your information, and we can do with it whatever we like" type of consent? 

There is no conceivable good reason for a recruiting agency to have access to this type of personal information. 

The Human Rights Commission has indicated that it is unlawful for employers to discriminate based on disability - so there is no excuse for broad sweeping provision of this data by ACC to prospective employers either. In some specific circumstances, there may be a fitness requirement or a health hazard associated with a job - and an employer may need reassurance that the candidate is fit for this - but a medical certificate should normally suffice. 

Why would a recruiting agency or prospective employer want to access an applicant's financial records. If honesty is at issue - they should investigate previous employers and determine whether there is a police record for theft - particularly if that is material to the job. Otherwise it is intrusive in the extreme.

ACC's pathetic excuse that the reason they gave this information is because they were asked for it by recruiting agencies and employers - once again calls to question the scruples of the management of ACC. 

A government run business functioning at public expense has an even greater duty than regular businesses to act in the interest of the public. This means respecting privacy. 

Why didn't ACC red flag this activity? It was probably for the same reason that they did not change the ACC167. 

There is no point in making promises and doing nothing (or worse, doing the opposite).

The management of ACC has shown that they have no respect for the privacy of it's clients. They, like the NZ government administration, consider themselves so big and powerful - that normal human rights do not apply. Giving highly confidential information to recruiting agencies and prospective employers was consequently immaterial to ACC. They had a signed ACC167 - so, as far as they were concerned could do whatever they liked with client's information.
Government leaders have shown such a profound disrespect for the human right of privacy - that it is becoming assumed by others in business and industry that privacy is irrelevant - and they can access the information of individuals, and use it as they like too.
This is one of the many negative consequences of government and bureaucracy run by people without a conscience.

Privacy! Not in New Zealand. 

ACC - is a multi-billion dollar New Zealand government run business - which appears to have deleted the concept of Privacy and Human Rights from their corporate dictionary.

The laws which have been passed in recent years - indicate that the NZ government have effectively left Privacy and Human Rights out of their lexicon too.

This is very bad news for New Zealanders, and this situation needs to be remedied.