Sepuloni tackles a matter of gender imbalance – but do women really want a bigger share of payments from the ACC?

 Monitoring the Ministers

We suspect women don’t aspire to gain equality with men in all measures of gender disparities.

Prison musters provide an obvious example.

In September this year males accounted for 94.3% of the prison population. 

This clearly means women were far behind with just 5.7% – and that percentage was lower than the 7% recorded in September 2018.

Elsewhere in our criminal justice system, changes to help women are being effected through the passage of the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, which will:

  • entitle sexual violence complainants to use alternative ways of giving evidence, including by pre-recording their cross-examination evidence in appropriate cases;
  • ensure evidence about a complainant’s past sex life is off limits, unless it is clearly highly relevant; and
  • require judges to talk to the jury to dispel any misconceptions relating to sexual violence (often called ‘rape myths’) that might be brought into a case.

Mind you, Justice  Minister Kris Faafoi dispelled any impression there is a gender bias in the  legislation.  It includes changes to benefit all witnesses, not just those in sexual cases, he said.

Faafoi said he knew some lawyers had raised concerns about how the Bill will work in practice, and the impact it will have on defendants.

“I am reassured to see similar changes working fairly in other countries, where similar concerns were raised but have not eventuated,” Kris Faafoi said.

The Government has committed to reviewing the Bill’s impacts, on both complainants and defendants, once the changes have had a chance to bed in.

The pre-Christmas legislative agenda included the first reading of the Security Information in Proceedings Legislation Bill (it will now be considered by Parliament’s Justice Committee), the introduction of the Firearms Prohibition Order Legislation Bill into Parliament, and confirmation that the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 will be reviewed as part of the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on the Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019.

But Point of Order’s monitoring of Beehive announcements led us beyond the criminal justice system and the government’s legislative programme.  We focused on a press statement which addressed gender inequalities in the ACC.

This left us puzzling:  do women aspire to register as many accidents and be paid the same share of ACC payments as men?

ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni believes they do and – good for her – she is intent on levelling the playing field to give them a fair shake of the corporation’s compensatory payouts.

The corporation for which she has managerial responsibility has been tackling gender inequality in the work place for some time.  It might be argued they need more men in many parts of the empire to get the balance right.

A report published last year says ACC has over 3500 employees.  Women account for 66.5% of the total workforce, 60% of ACC leaders, 76% of workers in front-line roles, 57% of board members, 62% in middle management and professionals.  The portion drops to 45% in senior professionals and senior leaders, 43% of the executive team and 41% of senior leaders.

But that’s not where Sepuloni has been focused.

She is chuffed about introducing legislation to tackle gender imbalance in the claims department by enabling some 17,000 – 18,000 women a year to join the queue.

The legislation is the Maternal Birth Injuries and Other Matters Amendment Bill, which has passed its first reading in the House.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders stand to benefit from the Bill, she said.  It:

  • reverses changes made to ACC legislation by the previous Government and
  • extends cover for women who suffer from injuries while giving birth.

Sepuloni recalled that in 2010, the previous Government, in a bid to reduce costs, made changes to ACC which restricted access to cover and entitlements.

The Ardern government is committed to returning ACC to its original purpose of assisting all New Zealanders who have had an injury.

“Today, we are taking the first step by reversing some of those changes to ensure Kiwis receive fair access.”


“The proposed changes, will make it easier for workers, such as firefighters and sawmill staff, who might suffer from work-related gradual process injuries to work through a claim for compensation.

“The changes will give much more certainty to those workers who make claims for this type of injury.”

The mischief being addressed by the bill is not clear.  According to Sepuloni, the test to establish work-related injury had been changed in 2010 and

“… the burden of gathering evidence appeared to be placed on the workers”.

This put some people off making a claim, she said.

“We want people with injuries to be able to make a claim and that is why the Government is proposing to clearly put the onus back on ACC to produce evidence that a disease or infection is not work-related,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

She then explained that another group to benefit under the proposed changes is women who experience injury during childbirth. The Government wants to amend ACC legislation to cover more injuries caused by childbirth, a step which will benefit an estimated 17,000 to 18,000 women each year.

“We know 85 per cent of women in New Zealand may experience an injury during childbirth.  It is a matter of fairness that these injuries, which can be severe, are covered by ACC. “

Oh – and:

“This will also help address the gender imbalance that we currently see with fewer women making claims than men,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

As we asked earlier – do women really want to match men on every measure of gender disparities?

The other changes of note include:

  • Reducing the threshold for injury-related hearing loss cover from six per cent to five per cent. This ensures claimants receive the care they need, while maintaining a fair baseline for coverage.
  • Requiring ACC take into account what someone earned before they were unable to work, when determining if they can return to work. This means certainty for claimants that their pre-incapacity earnings will be considered when supporting their return to a suitable job.
  • Increasing the number of ACC Board members from eight to nine allowing a wider range of specialist and stakeholder representation.

People are being encouraged to have their say on the changes through the Select Committee process early next year.

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