I’m a little slow getting to this (what else is new), but nonetheless feel a need to comment… I was disappointed to read in the NZ Herald last Sunday comments by NZ’s Opposition Leader, Phil Goff, criticizing the Government over a consultation document released by the NZ Accident Compensation Corporation.
The document (not referenced by the Herald :( but I believe it’s this one, from the ACC Levy Consultation site) includes a number of new proposals, of which several have, broadly speaking, two goals – one is to allow the ACC to adjust individual levies for different people and employers to reflect different amounts of risk, while the other would allow people to opt for lower levies in return for lower accident compensation benefits.
Both ideas seem to me generally to be within the bounds of things worth giving thoughtful consideration to. Unfortunately, that’s not how I would characterize Phil Goff’s reaction. Instead of commenting intelligently on the pros or cons of the substance of the proposals, he claims that the proposals are just “the Government’s way of privatising the state-owned injury insurer by ‘stealth’“. According to the Herald, he told NZPA “it was not so much the specific proposals which worried him, but what lay behind them was the Government’s desire to move to a user-pays, privatised system“.
The reason I find this disappointing is that it’s fundamentally a lazy argument. In my view, trying to attribute motive to someone, as he is doing here, is always a poor substitute for a real argument because there’s simply no way to prove that it’s either right or wrong. To make matters worse, in an attempt (I guess) to support his allegation, he tries to link the Government’s alleged motives with what he considers to be the political tactics of former National Finance Minister Ruth Richardson, stating, “This is a National Government which learned from Ruth Richardson that you don’t do it all at once but you just bring it in by stealth until people wake up and realise that the system that they once enjoyed is gone“.
Really?? The mother of the “Mother of All Budgets” was known for a cautious gradualist approach to reform? Interesting! Even if that characterization were reasonable, Ruth Richardson left office in 1993! Is this really the best argument Mr Goff can give us – linking the Government with someone who has been out of office for 17 years?
For what it’s worth, I think it’s conceivable that a coherent argument could be made that introducing a choice of lower levies for lower benefits may be a bad thing – e.g. if people on low incomes were to make that choice for reasons of financial hardship and end up with inadequate support in the event of an accident. But surely this is the point of the consultation process – to give people a chance to make these kinds of arguments. It’s unfortunate that Mr Goff has so far chosen not to have that kind of debate.