A reference written by then-ACC Minister Nick Smith for his friend and National Party insider Bronwyn Pullar as she was trying to secure entitlements from the agency, was on his ministerial letterhead.
Dr Smith says it was an "error of judgement" which he regretted.
Ms Pullar was last year accidentally sent information about 6700 other ACC claimants, including data which identified some as making "sensitive claims" for injuries resulting from rape or other forms of sexual assault.
ACC alleges Ms Pullar tried at a meeting with senior managers in December to secure benefit entitlements for two years as a trade-off for returning the information.
Her friend, former National Party president Michelle Boag, was her support person at the meeting.
The Herald was told of the reference from Dr Smith by a woman who said she was an ACC claimant, and who said she was resentful at what appeared to be preferential treatment.
"Why did Dr Nick Smith ever write her a letter in his capacity as ACC Minister on Parliamentary letterhead?
"Us claimants who do have problems and issues over a long period of time, we don't get to use high powered people, we don't get to have meetings with senior managers or the board."
Nick Smith says he did not seek to influence any ACC staff member in relation to her case.
He said Ms Pullar was a friend and the only information he provided in the letter was in relation to her condition prior to her cycling accident.
Whilst it's good that Nick Smith has taken responsibility for his cock-up, it is not a good look. Smith is no novice, having been first elected to Parliament in 1990, but this is the kind of lapse of judgment that one would expect from a far less experienced MP.
And he has apologised to the Prime Minister; read on:
Dr Smith has apologised to Prime Minister John Key.
Mr Key said he agreed it was an error of judgment but he had accepted Dr Smith's apology.
"It's important ministers act in a way that can't be construed as a conflict of interest."
He said Dr Smith had otherwise dealt with his potential conflict of interest well. He had consistently disclosed his friendship with Ms Pullar in all ACC dealings and otherwise distanced himself from her case.
Asked if Ms Pullar had used her National Party connections to boost her case with ACC, Mr Key said if she had it clearly hadn't worked given Ms Pullar was unhappy with the level of support ACC provided her.
We have no problem whatsoever with Nick Smith writing to ACC on behalf of a friend in his capacity as MP for Nelson; that's the kind of thing that constituency MP's do all the time, and what they should be doing. But writing on ministerial letterhead was a major blunder by Smith, and the public sackcloth-and-ashes routine, dictated no doubt by the PM's office was always going to be the likely outcome. At least he has taken the immediate sting out of the issue by confessing swiftly.
And we somehow think that Dr Smith's frienship with Ms Pullar may have been tested by this messy business; check out his gentle remonstration (with our emphasis added):
This morning he told Radio New Zealand he would be happy for the letter to be made public.
"I'd be very happy for that letter to go into the public arena, subject to Ms Pullar giving a privacy waiver. She's been very concerned about privacy issues and I don't want to add to that.
But if she gives her consent for that letter to go into the public arena and I think that would be helpful, I think it would make plain I wasn't inappropriately interfering as a minister."
Nick Smith's cock-up here should be a lesson to all MP's, especially those with multiple responsibilities. We hope that he learns from his own discomfort today, which was entirely self-inflicted. He needs to up his game.