Should we be debating the Accident Compensation Commission process? When Bernard Spiegal found out that I was going to be in New Zealand (NZ),

26 Mar



When Bernard Spiegal found out that I was going to be in New Zealand (NZ), he asked me if I could find out about attitudes to risk in NZ Primary Schools, so my daughter, Lizzy, arranged a meeting with Nat Halliday. Clearly this can hardly be considered as a representative sample, but hopefully better than none and it was confirmed by two Local Authority Officers with responsibility for play and opens paces and two suppliers to parks and schools!


Lizzy introduced me to Nat Halliday, a friend of hers living in Lyttelton who is a Primary School Teacher at Diamond Harbour Primary School. Prior to teaching in NZ, Nat was a teacher in a UK Private school for young children.


Just to give a little background, Diamond Harbour is a small rural community on the shore of Lyttelton Harbour that also acts as a middle class suburb to Christchurch. The school has 130 pupils in 6 classes and has a catchment that includes remote farms on the Banks Peninsular.


Interestingly, the performance of schools in NZ is measured rather differently than how we measure performance here. They are measured on what Nat referred to as a Decile rating, based on the mean wealth of the pupil’s parents. As I understood it this means that the performance of schools in the lowest decile is not expected to achieve the same level of results as those in the upper deciles.


With the present Conservative government in NZ academic standards similar to those now being imposed in the UK are being adopted. Previously there had been far greater freedom both in curriculum and teaching methods. For example several approaches are offered in maths for solving simple arithmetical problems and children are allowed to adopt the approach with which they are most comfortable. So there is little imposed methodology. In addition great importance is attached to nature and particularly to indigenous and native plants and animals.


Set against this and again similar to the UK there has been a real awareness and move away from risk aversion to an enthusiasm for increased exposure to risk in forms that children can both identify and manage. The example that Nat gave was that children once again are being allowed, even encouraged, to climb trees. The process of risk assessment is only used for school trips outside the school premises and not, for example to trees within the grounds, where children would be expected to use their common sense. Nat himself suggests to children that if they are making a decision about the safety of a tree then working on the principle that a branch needs to be the same thickness as their leg is a sensible place to begin!


However there is a big difference in NZ to the UK and that is the New Zealand Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) The law underpinning ACC was enacted during the tenure of Norman Kirk NZ Prime Minister in 1974, and is fundamental to the way risk is managed. It guarantees free medical assistance and treatment and 80% of pay lost due to the accident. Payment is conditional on agreement not to sue or litigate. This has resulted in a no claims culture across all the sectors that I met. These included Busy Cs preschool care where my Grandson, Alby, is cared for, Local Authority Parks, where I received four independent confirmations of the effectiveness of ACC and finally in the Primary School Sector from Nat. He confirmed that there is a no blame culture, suing simply does not happen.


So my conclusion is that if we are serious about increasing the momentum against a claims culture and a blame culture, we ought to give real consideration to research into the ACC approach. We need to assess the relative costs to Society of the two systems, both financially and in terms of children’s well being. We would also have to anticipate the resistance of all the vested, financial and professional institutions that would stand to lose from such a move. I wonder if this might not be the next direction the PSF ought to lobby for?


So perhaps I should finish with an anecdote that Nat told me during our conversation to exemplify the attitude to risk that is typical of NZ. In Little River, a small strung-out community on the road between Christchurch and Akorea on the Banks Peninsular, there is a twenty meter long water slide to which kids come from miles around (as well as the excellent coffee, café and art gallery). Not very long ago the slide broke and a kid came off and broke and arm, they were taken to hospital, the owner mended the slide, no one was sued, the slide was reopened for kids and life simply carried on.


Shouldn’t this be our aspiration for Britain? After all NZ was the first country in the world to grant universal franchise to women, maybe they could also be the first Country to lead the way on resolving the compensation culture.


8 Responses to “Should we be debating the Accident Compensation Commission process? When Bernard Spiegal found out that I was going to be in New Zealand (NZ),”

  1. Mark Gladwin March 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Not the first time that New Zealand has led the way. The key difference between UK and NZ is that they are still essentially a social democracy even after periods of conservative government whereas the UK is still essentially a capitalist society even after periods of social democratic government. I can already envisage the Daily Telegraph editorials about nanny-stateism if a UK government tried to introduce the kind of social pooling of risks that is needed to underpin a “no litigation” risk culture. Not that we shouldn’t try to emulate this NZ example, but that to succeed, our emulation needs to challenge the political implications of the privatisation of risk more broadly.

    By the way, what would they have done in NZ if it turmed out that the water slide guy was a real cowboy operator who had been negligent of his responsibilities to the public? Is it anybody’s job to check up on him?

    • grumpysutcliffe March 27, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks mark, imagine what the Telegraph said about the enfranchisement of women! But we got there in the end.

      I don’t know the answer to your second question, but suspect that the Commission would handle this. Part of the research, perhaps?

  2. bernardspiegal March 28, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    First class research, Robin! Ideas around ‘no-blame’ compensation must, in principle, surely be worth looking into in the UK context. What’s good about the NZ system is that it acts as a counter force to the temptation to sue and to blame. Though I imagine that there is provision for finding individuals/instituions negligent in particular circumstances. Regards, Bernard

  3. Tim Gill April 2, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    It would be interesting to find out more about the scheme, for sure. It may be an option that has been looked at here in the UK (I’m sure reports have been written on the compensation culture by Parliamentary committees and others over the last decade or so). I have a hunch that Mark is right, and it is a reflection of a more communitarian culture in NZ. But let’s not be overly deterministic about this, or overly pessimistic about the prospects for reform. One thing is for sure though: such a change would reach far wider than the play sector, and hence would need support from much bigger fish than us!

    • grumpysutcliffe April 7, 2014 at 9:31 am #

      Thanks Tim, as you know, and this is just to inform others who found this blog of interest. The Play Safety Forum responded positively to the idea of ACC and will pursue it further as a possible work item in the future.

      Suggestions as to the names of other organisations that would be affected, benefit or wish to participate would be welcome.

  4. Ashton Dempsey August 11, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    Some corrections:

    the decile rating is a funding mechanism, not an academic achievement measure. Its commonly misunderstood and I would be surprised if Nat (who I know) misconstrued it’s purpose. In essence, schools are funded at an incrementally higher rate as you move from Decile 10 (an school in an extremely well off area) to Decile 1 (a seriously deprived area). This is done to allow for the natural lack of resources and need for support as deprivation increases. It has, unfortunately and often wrongly, become a shorthand for the academic success of the schools.

    Secondly, ACC is not completely blame free. Employers and others in control of a situation are measured and their accident rates are scaled based on performance. High accident rate employers are charged a higher ACC rate than low accident rate employers. A move to this approach has recently happened in car registration (there is no 3rd party requirement in NZ for obvious reasons).

    Overall, I am a big fan of ACC as an accident rehabilitation funding mechanism with some proviso’s. The funding base is similar to an insurance scheme and such a large investment base is a political football, or treasure chest depending on your point of view. For this reason alone (but many others) a scheme like ACC should be separated from political influence.

    Both academic and health policy are huge subjects and handled very differently in the UK and NZ. My personal feeling is you are progressively getting it “wronger” over there. Unfortunately, so are we, and for similar reasons.

    • grumpysutcliffe August 11, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      Thanks Ashton, I am sure your are right that Nat would not have got this wrong, it will be my understanding of his message.

      I am glad that you are a fan of ACC, me too. It is tragic that our politicians (and indeed the public and my own Play safety Forum) do not have the stomach for this piece of advocacy. We no longer have the desire to ensure that people are cared for equally, but increasingly only on the basis of their wealth. Tragic!

      • Ashton Dempsey August 11, 2015 at 10:10 am #

        Its not only equitable, its demonstrably cheaper and has better societal and economic outcomes. You have to be an accounting dunce, economically illiterate or a dyed in the wool neo-con to not see the value of no-fault compensation.

        And as a declaration of interest, I’m an HR Manager for a large multinational owned NZ employer who gets to see all sides of the argument.

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