This exclusive by Newsroom is not only an outstanding piece of journalism, but it raises serious questions about the motives of not allowing the victims of the Christchurch atrocity to access ACC payments…
Government ministers considered – but rejected – special support via ACC for those mentally traumatised by the Christchurch terror attack. David Williams reports.
The advice came head-spinningly fast.
ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway spoke to officials urgently after the Christchurch mosques shooting, acutely aware that the country’s no-fault accident compensation scheme had a glaring gap. The Accident Compensation Corporation, or ACC, covers death and injury, and is a safety net for those injured at work. But, other than providing a handful of initial counselling sessions, it doesn’t cover those mentally injured who aren’t physically harmed.
For example, a plumber driving to a job who was traumatised by seeing a person shot by the gunman on March 15 is eligible for weekly ACC compensation of 80 percent of their pay. But an uninjured worshipper at the Al Noor or Linwood mosques, who witnessed the death of the person praying next to them and now has post-traumatic stress disorder, doesn’t qualify.
(Differentiating between victims was a point of contention raised in a protest by some Christchurch Muslims last month.)
Immediately after the mosque shootings, in which 51 were killed and dozens injured, a dazed public rode a wave of emotions. Unity was anchored to anguish, while sympathy seemed stained with sorrow. It must have made sense to Lees-Galloway to tap into the country’s compassionate mood and consider extending ACC-administered payments to those mentally harmed by the attack. After all, it was already making payments to the physically injured.
On March 20, five full days and just three working days after the attack, the advice came through from ACC and the Business Ministry, MBIE. Lees-Galloway was given options, possible risks were flagged, and rough costs estimated.
“Hats off to them,” says Wellington lawyer Warren Forster, an ACC expert who used to represent some of the terror attack victims’ families. “It’s a pretty impressive piece of policy work to do in three days.”
According to the paper, an estimated 200 people directly witnessed the shooting and, potentially, another 480 people are family members of those injured of killed in the attack. The rough cost of Lees-Galloway’s planned ACC extension was put at $1.4 million up to July 1, and up to $35 million over the life of the scheme.
“Given the unique nature of the attack – which, unlike many traumatic events, constitutes a deliberate attempt to terrorise and inflict mental harm, as well as physical harm, on a large number of people – a temporary limited expansion of the services ACC provides may be desirable,” says the paper, released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act.
…the reason why the ACC funded proposal was rejected was in favour of a much cheaper version run by MSD, despite MSD admitting that their toxic culture isn’t structured to actually help anyone…
MSD advice to Lees-Galloway, included in the April Cabinet paper, said it “does not consider that a payment through the welfare system … is a feasible option”. It added: “Design and approval processes would take time and it is questionable whether MSD could operationally deliver such support.”
…so MSD acknowledged that they are really just a stick to beat the vulnerable with and that actually being proactive and helping victims with mental anguish is the last thing they do.
It is shocking to think that while we will spend $208million on a gun buy back program, we won’t spend $35 million to heal the 364 people who directly needed counselling because it might set a precedence that ACC help others without physical injury.
That such a fear of precedence would trump our obligation to the survivors of the Christchurch atrocity is ugly.