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Push for inquiry into Smith ACC scandal

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Latest Political News | Thursday March 22 2012 6:54

Push for inquiry into Smith ACC scandal


The push is continuing from the opposition for a full inquiry into the Nick Smith ACC scandal.

Dr Smith's resigned his portfolios after admitting a second error of judgement in his handling of claims made on ACC by his friend, and former National Party official Bronwyn Pullar

Labour leader David Shearer says Dr Smith's resignation doesn't end the matter.

"We should have a full inquiry into this. I think the Government would hope that it was going to go away. I don't believe that it should. I think the public, and we all, deserve an explanation."

Mr Shearer wants to know why the Prime Minister didn't act earlier.

Should Dr Smith decide to quit politics altogether, Mr Shearer believes his party could win Nelson.

"Yes we definitely could have a good chance of winning that seat, we've held that seat in the past although that was some time ago. We would certainly have a decent crack at it," he says.

The heat is on the Prime Minister with MPs saying Mr Key should have asked for Dr Smith's scalp much sooner than yesterday.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins says according to John Key's standards, ministers can go into bat for people in their own portfolios and not break any rules.

"John Key has never been good at managing conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest are rife in this government and John Key doesn't care about that."

But National MP Tau Henare was quick to dredge up Labour's past.

He recited the names of former ministers given the boot by Helen Clark, from Dover Samuels to David Benson-Pope.

"Taito Phillip Field. We know what happened to him but his mates tried to cover up for him and then they distanced themselves. That was the Labour Party."

Winston Peters and others say Dr Smith's resignation is not the end of the matter.

The New Zealand First leader says while many people struggle to get help from ACC, National Party insiders get all the assistance they need.

"No doubt that there's cuts from ACC. There are countless people who have had false judgements put against them as to their hereditary medical problems when in fact it is a design to cut down the expenditure of ACC, and hundreds of people have lost out on a fair go," Mr Peters says.

The Greens are also continuing to call for a full independent inquiry into ACC's privacy breach.

Otago University politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards says while the resignation will cauterise the wound to some extent, it doesn't spell the end.

He says it's an embarrassing situation for National and not a good look for John Key.

"He was defending Nick Smith for some time yet and now it looks like he was trying to protect Nick Smith. And it has a similar feeling to the Phil Goff situation with Darren Hughes."

Dr Edwards says the biggest loser is Nick Smith and doubts he will be a minister again.

"He's likely to leave Parliament at the next election but we can't be sure that there won't be a by-election as well, within the short term, depending on what else is revealed about this case."

Dr Edwards says it appears Mr Key wanted the situation to just blow over, and only acted when the political heat got too strong.

He says Dr Smith was an important senior minister.

"He was someone that showed that the Government wasn't just made up of hard line ministers and with him gone, the Government really is lacking their nice face."

Dr Edwards says John Key has misjudged the situation.

"This has come very early on and Nick Smith was a senior government minister and he was an important part of the National Party's brand, if you like."

He says that was because Dr Smith was one of the more moderate ministers.

However Green MP Kevin Hague says a proper investigation into the case is still needed, and he thinks Dr Smith's resignation took too long.

"John Key as Prime Minister needed to demonstrate leadership by taking the action himself."

And Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule has worked closely with Dr Smith in his most recent guise as Local Government Minister.

He's surprised and saddened by the move.

"Nick Smith had a wealth of knowledge and was very intelligent, very bright and was right over his portfolio. So it's a big loss I think to the Parliament in terms of the Cabinet," he says.

Mr Yule says he's still trying to find out whether Gerry Brownlee is a permanent or temporary replacement.

Labour's ACC spokesman Andrew Little says Dr Smith was always the one with the most to lose and now that he's resigned he has nothing more to lose.

"I don't see that Judith Collins has done anything wrong nor the Prime Minister, except for the fact that they are stone walling. They ought to have nothing to fear either.

"There shouldn't be any hesitation given the events of this week and the last couple of weeks for them to set up that inquiry for the sake of public confidence."

Photo: NZ Herald

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