Why not just shut the commission?

Labour’s Annette King asked the wrong question in Parliament today.

She inquired of Paula Bennett, our Minister for Social Development and Employment: Why did she appoint Christine Rankin as a Families Commissioner?

The much better question is why appoint anyone to be Families Commissioners and why not just dismantle the bloody outfit?

For the record, Bennett said she appointed Rankin:

Because I believe she will be good in the role, and she is a strong advocate for children and their families.

Fair to say, King was unlikely to ask why the Government won’t dismantle the commission (which probably would mean United Future leader Peter Dunne spits the dummy and severs his formal ties with the Government, which would mean we need a new Revenue Minister, which would give Alf a bloody good chance of becoming a Minister at long last).

She was eager, rather, to publicly disparage the appointee:

Is Christine Rankin a suitable appointee in light of the culture of extravagance and sideshows she created when last employed in public service, including the $1 million spent on a new logo for, and the rebranding of, her department; the $80,000 spent on roadshows; the $25,000 spent on self-promotion videos in which she appeared alongside Martin Luther King and Ghandi; the $250,000 spent on advertising to overcome her bad publicity; not to forget the $165,0000 spent on charter planes to take her staff to a luxury resort for a meeting?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In the last few years Christine Rankin has been a strong advocate for children and their families. She is one of seven Families Commissioners, and I believe she will do a fine job in that role.

Mind you, at one point in the question and answer session King landed a nice blow:

Hon Annette King: Why did the Minister support Christine Rankin’s appointment, in light of her comments to colleagues that Christine Rankin’s behaviour that had led to the sacking of a Television New Zealand staffer was outrageous and she avoided having anything to do with the woman?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have no recollection of making any comments like that, at all. I support Miss Rankin’s appointment to this role. I think she is a strong advocate for families, I certainly agree with her stance on child abuse and neglect, and I look forward to seeing the work she does on it.

King’s question harked back to a time when TVNZ fired a security guard after he was marched out the door for chiding Rankin about her remarks about Maori and child abuse.

Louis Rawnsley, who had worked for the state broadcaster for 24 years, told TV3 News he quietly told Christine Rankin he thought her comments were “over the top”. He said it was a “bit harsh to blame all Maori for the actions of four idiots.”

TVNZ public relations spokeswoman Megan Richards said the broadcaster fired Mr Rawnsley after he subjected Ms Rankin to an “extended and abusive exchange”.

“His job was to welcome visitors to the organisation and to ensure a safe environment for them,” she said.

Mr Rawnsley was at his post and in his uniform when the exchange took place, and had just completed his shift, she said.

“He was representing the company very clearly and it is totally unacceptable for any visitors to our organisation have to endure abuse from staff irrespective of anyone’s views on the issues of the day.”

Incidents like that explain why the media describe Rankin as “colourful” and/or “controversial”.

For example, Stuff says of her appointment as a family commissioner:

Rankin isn’t remembered particularly fondly by some sections of the public from her days at Winz, where her unorthodox management style and fondness for extravagant conferences got her much publicity.

So did her decision to sue the State Services Commission after she lost her job when Labour took office in 2000.

She’s one of those people the media describes as “colourful”, which is a euphemism for controversial, and also for divisive.

Already this morning her appointment has been welcomed by Family First and Parents Inc and condemned by Child Poverty Action Group, Labour, and the Greens.

And further on in the Stuff report:

In political parlance, she’s a hot potato, a loose cannon, and frankly a risk. She could divide the commission and hinder its work.

Of course, a cynic might say that’s the idea. National didn’t want the Families Commission, remember, and had planned to abolish it. It was only the intervention of Peter Dunne, who’s supporting the government and is a minister, that saved it.

Could National be planning to sabotage the commission with these latest appointments? I think that’s probably going a bit far. But it certainly sends a strong message that it expects a change in temperament and tone from the commission.

Dunno about going a bit far.

How about this report from TVNZ?

Controversial former public sector boss Christine Rankin says she is not even sure the Families Commission should exist at all, despite her new appointment with the body.

“I don’t think that most New Zealanders would feel that it had had any great impact on their lives. It could be a very powerful organisation but maybe it shouldn’t exist and time will tell”, Rankin says.

The Families Commission was set up as a Crown agency to promote better understanding of family issues as part of a support deal between United Future and Labour following the 2002 election.

National saw no use for it, but agreed to keep it as part of its post-election deal with the United Future’s Peter Dunne.

A mistake, in Alf’s mind. He’s therefore thoroughly indifferent about who gets jobs in an outfit he regards as no less extravagant than some of Rankin’s antics.

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