The ACC framework: A beacon of hope for climate change and pandemic control?

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s 2023 Woodhouse Fellow explores the groundbreaking ideas behind Aotearoa New Zealand’s ACC scheme, to suggest a framework that can, and should, be used to address contemporary challenges such as climate change and public health.

2023 Woodhouse Fellow Professor Richard Gaskins

Richard Gaskins, Professor Emeritus at Brandeis University in Boston, delivered the highly anticipated Sir Owen Woodhouse Memorial Lecture on 18 October. Speaking to the radical principles behind the 1967 Woodhouse report, he revealed the much wider ambitions of its intent.

“There are some very big ideas behind the accident compensation discussion, which are not particularly legal, but economic and social. It's a comprehensive framework that Sir Owen Woodhouse constructed, and there's a deeper level to these Woodhouse ideas.

“The notion of uncompensated social costs, a key aspect of the Woodhouse report, is especially evident when we talk about climate change.

“It sets up a kind of social imperative that some kind of remedy has to happen. And that's the principle of community responsibility, which is a pivotal concept in the 1967 report. You can't sit back and do nothing because the costs are being incurred day by day.”

Sir Owen Woodhouse, dubbed the ‘father of ACC’, made a significant contribution to Aotearoa during his lifetime and is best known for chairing the Royal Commission on Personal Injury in New Zealand from 1966 to 1967.

The outcome, known as the Woodhouse Report, recommended that the country introduce a no-fault accident compensation scheme. The scheme continues today and is internationally renowned as a major innovation.

Gaskins says it's disheartening however that political discussion hasn't caught up with the very morally urgent approach that Woodhouse took.

“Woodhouse's once-radical framework could inspire modern solutions to global problems, and by understanding his approach, we can seek bolder, more comprehensive actions against the pressing issues of our time."

Gaskins, who began comparative work on the ACC scheme in 1975 and met with Sir Owen Woodhouse in Philadelphia in 1979, says the radical principles behind the 1967 Woodhouse Report were eclipsed by shifting political styles and gradually abandoned.

“When Sir Owen was writing the report, it was a time when a lot of scholarship and public policy was turning to market systems.

“The neoliberal movement was starting up, and these larger Woodhouse concepts of ecological economics and public health were quite incompatible with the dominant thoughts of the time."

He says Sir Owen’s notion that ‘the apparent heresies of one generation become the orthodoxies of the next’ can encourage us to explore how core Woodhouse heresies might provide fresh support for a generation grappling with climate change and pandemic control.

“An important reason for digging into the background of Sir Owen’s work is to reach back some 50 years, before the rise of neoliberalism, and connect with clear alternative principles—reminding us of roads not taken.

“Going back and examining his ideas can help us understand how we might move forward.”

In 2023 a new agreement was signed with the Woodhouse family who generously support this lecture. The new agreement focuses on Te Herenga Waka delivering a Fellowship every four years and ensures public lectures take place bi-annually.