Monday, May 18, 2009

Missing the point

What is there left to be said about Christine Rankin, the bizarre choice of the cabinet to head the Families Commission? By the look of the media coverage of the last few days, not much. The revelations concerning her private life have come thick and fast, culminating in reports that an affair with a married man (who would become her husband) led to the suicide of his then-wife. Apparently, this contradiction between the stated purpose of the Families Commission ("The Families Commission provides a voice for New Zealand families. We speak out for all families and promote a better understanding of family issues and needs among government agencies and the wider community.") and the 'sordid' history of Rankin's failed marriages and alleged affairs means that she cannot be expected to properly perform in the role.

The Herald has been drooling over the salacious gossip. Yesterday's Herald on Sunday, a publication which I would consider unfit to papier-mâché a likeness of Adolf Hitler, carried this 'report' - and when I say 'report' I mean 'gossip column' - into the suicide of Margo McAuley. Today, the Herald leads with "Defiant Rankin slams 'vicious marriage critics". (Ah, where would headline writers be without the word 'slams'?) After this spectacle began with some relatively low-key 'pot, meet kettle' comments on a four-times-married woman telling people about 'family values' (whatever they are), Rankin has been forced to come out and deny having an affair with McAuley's husband - now Rankin's husband - as if adultery were still a crime on the books, and as if Rankin herself had pulled the trigger. The history of politicians and advocates of 'family values' meeting a grisly political end over revelations of their own infidelities and worse - think Graham Capill - is long and bloody, so Rankin's enemies in parliament and the media ought to be wary about casting the first stone.

So no, I don't think that Rankin's torrid, NW-friendly love-life should be a reason for her not being appointed to the Families Commission. I have plenty of other reasons for holding that opinion. Foremost has to be my doubts about the organisation itself - is it anything other than a quango that (deep breath) wastes public money (on, say, Rankin's salary) that might be better spent on social workers or hip-hop tours? I am deeply suspicious of any nanny commission telling me what a family is and what a family needs. In fact, it seems like just the sort of feel-good, achieve-nothing organisation that came out of 'third way' Labour governments here and in Britain.

But you don't need to agree with me on that. You can just accept that Rankin is unsuited for any position at the head of a large government body, least of all as an 'independent commissioner'. When Patrick Gower reports today that "they [Rankin and her new husband] were filmed dancing together on election night at the National Party's SkyCity celebrations days after Ms McAuley's death", he implies that this is inappropriate personal behaviour. I am considerably more worried about the implication that a card-carrying, event-attending member of the National Party* has been appointed by that same party to the head of an independent commission - let alone someone with the poverty of judgement to suggest "Oh what a lefty he is" of the notorious unreconstructed Marxist and fellow traveller Phil Goff. And that's to say nothing about the fiasco that resulted after her time at the head of Winz.

Sometimes the Herald finds stories where there are none; sometimes they don't report when there is one. This time, in my humble opinion, they've had one handed to them on a plate but missed the point entirely. In some sense, it's nice to interpret this as an end to National's honeymoon period with the media, and its generally matey relationship with John Key, but that interpretation may be untenable:
The appointment, announced last Monday, is said to have been bitterly contested within the Cabinet.
O, vile machinations.

*Disclaimer: I should point out that I have no idea (or interest in) whether Ms Rankin is actually a paid-up member, card-carrying or otherwise, of the National Party. Her behaviour is more important.


  1. "The appointment, announced last Monday, is said to have been bitterly contested within the Cabinet."

    Is said? Really?

    BY WHO?!?

    ("This article" is not an acceptable answer.)

  2. You forgot the bit where she was the head of a group opposed to the anti-smacking bill, which was supported by the Families Commission (the bill, not the group). Not that, I suppose, newly-appointed leaders of organisations can't have fresh ideas (and leaving aside my personal feelings on people who think campaigning for parents to have the right to hit their kids is more important than, say, campaigning against the appalling rates of child abuse in this country), but it may *hint* at a degree of partisanship perhaps inappropriate to the position. Admittedly though, like James, I don't know what, if anything, the position is supposed to entail...

    PS I'm now going to retreat to my fortress of solitude and work at constructing sentences with fewer clauses. Wish me luck!

  3. Is said? Really?

    BY WHO?!?

    That's journalist-speak for it was said by someone who would know, but they said it off the record.

  4. Or more sinisterly, is said is a way to lie and provide a perceived level of verity and credence to your point without any backing or fact checking...

  5. There's a whole secret journalist language for this stuff. "Is said" means it was said by someone credible but off the record. I'm not sure if it means they've checked it for a second source but it is supposed to be robust.

    There's some other ones in the comments here think you're supposed to just instinctively know what they mean.

  6. Right, I’m going to have my own go at revisionist history here (and why not, it works for the Herald). The difference is that;

    a. I think mine is actually based on fact and

    b. I was actually around and paying attention in the late 90’s, not trying to skive off third period English as I suspect the current crop of journalists were.

    Just before the Labour government took office, there were (amongst others) three high profile and successful women in public office. One wore dangly earrings, one was large and kind of loud and the other was confident, articulate and Maori. No-one questioned their ability, or the success that they had achieved in their relevant fields. They were all outspoken and staunch advocates for their organisations.

    Strange then that within a two year period, all had been destroyed and removed from their positions; vilified as examples of corporate waste in public office, incapable or inept, or plain out of touch with reality.

    They were Christine Rankin, Celia Lashlie and Merepeka Ruwaka-Tait.

    Christine Rankin was credited (even as late as a Herald biography in Feb of this year) as being one of the people responsible for changing WINZ from a “line up here, fill out form 927b, no sorry, you are in the wrong queue, next!” organisation to one that tried to respect its “clients”.

    As far as I can see, the only thing that these women did wrong, was;

    1. Be successful.
    2. Be openly critical of left wing policy
    3. Miss the meeting on appropriate dress code.

    OK. I don’t think that Christine Rankin would win the award for “Most likely to sit in a circle, holding the talking stick and uttering the phrase “Just think of me as a facilitator, not a leader”.” But are we really that scared of women who excel, (but don’t fit the classic mould or expectation) that we have to resort to destroying and vilifying them for all time?

  7. Christine Rankin suffered from many problems during her tenure at WINZ. Being overly successful was not one of them.

    Does no-one else remember the millions pissed away on corporate "rebranding"? How about the lavish company conferences? The $165,000 private jet?

    Rankin grossly mismanaged the merger of Income Support and the Employment Service, using it primarily as an opportunity for personal enrichment (her base salary upon appointment was, if memory serves, $250,000; her bonus structure would have been the envy of many a private sector CEO) and extensive media showboating.

    A less appropriate or effective leader for a major state service, male or female, could hardly be imagined.

  8. Exquisite post James, carry on.

  9. Jenna said...
    Christine Rankin suffered from many problems during her tenure at WINZ. Being overly successful was not one of them.

    Does no-one else remember the millions pissed away on corporate "rebranding"? How about the lavish company conferences? The $165,000 private jet?
    Jenna, I'm not sure where you or webnomix are comming from. Neither of you may agree with the politics, or the reasoning behind it, but the merger of the Income Support Service and the New Zealand Employment Service was widly regarded as a very successful merger. Carried out under budget.

    I guess this is where you are guilty of revisionist history. I seem to remember that even the fact that 25 senior managers wrote letters of support for Rankin was held up us some kind of evidence that she had a cult following and these people were somehow under her spell.

    I would also ask what is so wrong with a female public servant getting paid the same as her male counterparts in the public service. Is it the fact that she is a woman, or just the fact that WINZ should be more thrifty than IRD, or DOL?

  10. Does no-one else remember the millions pissed away on corporate "rebranding"? How about the lavish company conferences? The $165,000 private jet? The rebranding was the publication of the fact that two departments were joining together. I think millions is a little harsh as I think more was spent designing the Te Papa thumbprint.

    As far as lavish... there was one conference that got her into trouble. Interestingly, 40 judges managed to spend nearly double the amount six months later at the same resort. Under labour and without causing a ripple.

    A $165,000 private jet? They actually rented two aircraft from Ansett, as it was considered (incorrectly) to be a cheaper way of getting everyone to the conference. No question, that was a huge stuff up, that probably should have caused her head to roll. What it does not demand though is a complete re-write of the facts and public outrage that may prevent her form doing a job 10 years later.

  11. Yeah, whats niggling me about the whole stitch is that the liberal use of the term "child beater" "maori problem" "no abuse for children" is being bandied around for Spankin' Rankins appointment.
    No one's questioning why she isn't in the Childrens Commission as they're the ones who speak out for CHILDREN.
    Families Commission deals with the structure of a family, what helps families, and believe it or not, have undertaken work into the changing make up of what constitutes a "family" as it's no longer momma, dadda, and two kids. It could just as easily be momma, momma, dadda and kids, or dadda, dadda, kids.

    She's in the wrong role. If she's that concerned about Children shove her in Childrens Commission.

  12. Christine Rankin did not dance with her husband to be on election night as the NZ Herald reported.

    Apparently he was in Wellington.

  13. Had the journalist seen the film in question or just parroted what someone else said? Jesus.

  14. Note that the Herald continues to report the "dancing with her husband" comment today - even though it was debunked four days ago. I guess repeating something over and over somehow magically turns it into fact.