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A most interesting journey

22 November 2013

Long-serving ACC Committee convenor Don Rennie plans to step down before the end of the current two-year term of the Law Society’s law reform and specialist committees.

Mr Rennie joined the committee when it was established in 1990 and has been its convenor since November 2002.

“Since I came on the committee, it’s been a most interesting journey,” he says. “We have seen lots of changes over that time.

The ACC scheme has got “extremely politicised,” Mr Rennie says, and much of the focus of the committee has been to remind successive ministers and governments of the Woodhouse principles upon which the scheme was based.

Sir Owen Woodhouse chaired the Royal Commission on Accident Compensation from 1966 to 1967. This commission produced the Woodhouse Report that recommended a “no-fault” accident compensation scheme. 

Following this report, the Government enacted the Accident Compensation Act 1972 which established the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) and the ACC scheme. The ACC scheme is administered on a no-fault basis, so that anyone regardless of the way in which they incurred an injury whether at work, at home, at sport or recreation or from the use of a motor vehicle, is eligible for coverage under the scheme. People who have suffered personal injury do not have the right to sue an at-fault party, except for exemplary damages.

“The ACC scheme is not and never has been an insurance system,” Mr Rennie says. “It is a statutory replacement for common law entitlements and cover.

“It has been very difficult to persuade various governments that it is not an insurance operation. Many of the papers we have done for the various ministers over the years have emphasised that position.

“The Law Society has been there to monitor the situation, to ensure that the common law principles are maintained and are reflected in the legislation and in the administration.

“The Law Society has been there to keep emphasising that the ACC scheme does not need to be fully funded and that it shouldn’t be run on insurance principles.

“The people on the committee are absolutely dedicated to the fact that ACC operates on the proper Woodhouse principles and that it doesn’t depart from that into some sort of insurance operation,” Mr Rennie says.

The most recent example of the committee pressing the government to adhere to the Woodhouse principles came just a few weeks ago. The committee wrote in response to a penalty and bonus system in relation to ACC levies, known as an experience rating system, something that is contrary to the Woodhouse recommendations.

“Experience rating has been tried in many jurisdictions with little evidence that it has any effect on health and safety. We believe that any proposed changes to ACC should be evidence based,” he says.

Mr Rennie has been involved in ACC since the days of its establishment. That came after he went into partnership in 1960 in Wanganui firm Currie Jack and Davis, of which Sir Roy Jack was a partner. Mr Rennie then served on the bench for a short while, following his 1969 appointment as a Magistrate.

He was a special consultant to the three commissioners who set up the ACC, established by the 1972 legislation.

He worked directly with the commissioners and was responsible for setting up the ACC review and appeal systems. He was appointed the first Hearing Officer for the Commission.

Following that, Mr Rennie was also involved as consultant to the Victoria State Government, the Norfolk Island administration and the South Australian State Government with setting up new statutory workers compensation systems.

He has travelled to many overseas countries where he had lectured or presented papers on accident compensation issues. This includes presenting a paper at a Commonwealth Law Conference in Cyprus in 1993.

Mr Rennie wrote the original textbook ACC in New Zealand, published by Brookers and was one of the contributing authors of the Thomson Reuters-published Personal Injury in New Zealand.

From 1994 to 2004 Mr Rennie was involved on behalf of the Royal Federation of New Zealand Justices Associations in the education and training of Justices of the Peace in their Court duties.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016