Brian Edwards Media

Meeting Christine Rankin

christine-rankin1A year or so back I discovered  that my co-panellist that day on Jim Mora’s Afternoons programme on Radio New Zealand was to be Christine Rankin. I don’t think I’d met her before. It’s true that I had some pre-conceived and not very flattering ideas about her. But  my opinion of her had not always been negative.

I remember watching television news coverage of the case she took to the Employment Court in 2001 for unfair termination of her contract as CEO of WINZ by  the State Services Commission.  Much of the argument revolved around whether this effective sacking was politically motivated, but what captured my and the general public’s attention most were the extraordinary revelations about a conversation she had had with the Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mark Prebble.

Rankin claimed that on one occasion Prebble had said her earrings were a sexual come-on and that, at a previous meeting, when she had moved in her chair, he’d said he could distinguish her breasts and it  made him felt very uncomfortable. He had also said her legs were a distraction.

In his evidence Prebble testified that the outfit Christine Rankin wore when he first met her was indecent and offensive and could have been seen as a sexual advance. He said he agonised after that meeting how he would tell Rankin that her attire was inappropriate. He agreed that when he did talk to her about her appearance, he made a comment about earrings having a sexual connotation.

The effect of all of this, in my mind at least, was merely to make Prebble look like a fuddy-duddy ass with problems of his own, while Rankin came across as precisely the sort of person you would like to see running a government department – stylish, modern, up with the play, her own woman.

Over time my view of Rankin changed. I began to see her as brash, arrogant, confrontational, intolerant and dismissive of other views. Her public association with the pro-smacking lobby particularly concerned me.

It was probably this mix of  views  that prevailed when we met on Afternoons.  

This is a programme on which you can have a reasonably heated debate with someone of opposing views and leave the studio without any feeling of animosity. I frequently debate with Michelle Boag whose views are at the opposite end of the political spectrum to mine, but who is also a close friend. But I found this session with Christine Rankin so unpleasant that I later asked not to be paired with her again.  To be absolutely fair, I think she felt much the same about me.

I tell this story because I feel there is a quality about Christine Rankin that inspires dislike among many people. It may be the perceived characteristics I referred to earlier. It may be something in the face that suggests some deep-seated bitterness or anger. Or it may be the way she chooses to categorise people according to their political or philosophical opinions – conservatives and right-wingers good; liberals and lefties bad.  Watching her, I feel she would be entirely comfortable working for Fox News. Her mindset is indistinguishable from that of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity.

Over the past week Rankin has been subjected to some very trenchant criticism. Not all of it has been fair and there have been moments when I have begun to feel sorry for her. But Rankin’s response to this onslaught has not invited sympathy. Her mantra of strength, courage, compassion has been overlaid with the same angry, intolerant, take-no-prisoners attitudes that are, in my submission, at the root of her unpopularity with probably half the nation. Of all the unflattering and sometimes cruel things that have been said and written about her, one at least is surely beyond doubt. She is divisive.

And from the many interviews she has given I have heard nothing that supports her claim to be a compassionate person whose driving force is the protection of children. She may well be that person. But she has not shown it.

Watch Close Up Interview with Christine Rankin

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  1. Hi Brian,
    she can keep her compassionate ear the hell away from my troubled husband!
    Lock Up Your Men, the Families Decommissioner has strode into town.
    That is what she does isn’t it? she kinda strides everywhere.

  2. Families can be all sorts of arrangements these days Brian.
    Lets see whether that’s still the case after a good right-wing mauling of the Families Commission.

    Anyhoo, been to ‘The Glob that is the Gisborne Herald’ yet?

    Conceived as a cross between SpeAK YOur BRanes and Editing the Herald, early days tho’. Constructive criticism most welcome sir.

  3. There seems to be a tremendous amount of hot air about Christine Rankin, yet the whole thing can be summed up in one sentence.

    What goes around comes around.

  4. She may well be that person. But she has not shown it.

    Does she have to show it? Did other commissioners have to show it before being appointed? Or does she have to demonstrate it on the job like most government – appointees.

    • Does she have to show it? The reason why she has to show it, Jonno, is that she refers to it every time she is attacked. If you keep making a point about something, people will expect you to come up with the evidence.

  5. Earrings? I do remember a program on body-talk somewhere, that suggested that the larger the earings the more it was a “come-on” signal. A sort of availability signal but ummm?
    I think that Christine could certainly act for Families First or Families Trust and be outspoken for the the right to hit kids. Her efforts might even undermine the crowd who want to hit kids!!! But as a Families Commissioner I think that she does not fit.

  6. Me again. I’ve just read that the families commissioners appointment is an alternative income stream given to Ms. Rankin by her neophyte Paula Bennett (who considers CR to be her mentor) to replace her soon to gone by lunchtime Regional Council salary.
    Although in her Sainsbury i/v Rankin sniffed that it wasn’t that much really, $500.oo a day or some such.
    Has she forgotten her heady beneficiary days or what?

  7. I always wondered why people were so against Bill O’Reilly… opposes the death penalty, favours abortion rights, supports gay marriage etc.

    Isn’t he the type of person liberals should embrace?

    • Well, yes indeed Graeme, if that were the full story. But O’Reilly dismisses all liberals and left-wingers as the spawn of the devil. This is a really nasty piece of work. Check out to get an insight into a man with real anger management and interpersonal relationship issues.

  8. My main concern with Rankin, irrespective of possible personality deficits, is that she is in no way up to the task.

    Like Paula Bennett, Rankin was installed last time and now once again, precisely because she’s a compliant puppet that will cheerfully assist in the dismantling or derailing of state provided social services – either because of her rigid ideology, or more likely because she’s too dim and out of her depth to actually understand what she’s doing for her masters.

  9. Even given your own extreme left political perspective, it is still utterly gob smacking to me that you could think that Rankin could have anything in common with Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

    Given her ascension in the public service was down to the leftist device of affirmative action, (the bigoted exclusion of males from any promotion process), and that after her firing she followed that up with an appeal to the Employment court, another disreputable leftist edifice, and furthermore with four husbands she has hardly demonstrated any Conservative style respect for the institution of marriage, I’d be amazed if she ever had the faintest idea what Hannity and O’Reilly were on about.

    If Rankin in all her feminist (another left wing social construct) glory is an example of Conservatism in this country then we’re far further up Excrement creek than I ever imagined.

    • Even given your own extreme left political perspective, it is still utterly gob smacking to me

      Wow Redbaiter. I can see that from your perspective Christine Rankin probably comes close to being a Marxist. As to ‘the leftist device olf affirmative action’, ‘the bigoted exclusion of males from any promotion process’ and that ‘desreputible leftist edifice’ the Employment Court, I have fears for your mental health. Too many plots and conspiracies. Maybe just a hint of para… No, No, No, forget I even sugggested it. I’m sure you’re just fine. Funny though, I never really thought of myself as having an ‘extreme left political perspective. More of a wishy-washy liberal really. Something to do with being interested in causes not just effects.

  10. anyone to the left of Atila is a ‘leftist extremist’ in Red’s one eye. i think he’s more lonely than unwell, although the two could be related.

    • anyone to the left of Atila is a ‘leftist extremist’ in Red’s one eye.

      We should really be sorry for him, I suppose. He’d really hate that.

  11. Brian

    I find you curiously over-tolerant of this absurd, self-obsessed woman. The moment she opens her mouth, it’s I, I, I, as if she was singing a Mexican folksong.

    The story is always about Christine and her struggles, ambitions and refusal to be put-down or side-lined.

    Her managerial style at WINZ was similarly self-glorifying, self-obsessed and self-referential, and at the taxpayers’ expense.

    To the limited extent that she was concerned with substance, she used her position to increase the vulnerability of the most vulnerable.

    Let her depart in peace from the public realm and let us have done with her!

    • I find you curiously over-tolerant of this absurd, self-obsessed woman.

      Yes, I really must curb that excessive tolerance!

  12. The article is useful for me. I’ll be coming back to your blog.

  13. Hi, interesting post. I’ll write you later about few questions!

  14. Brian,
    Forgive this wordy rant, I’ve just done a superficial skim read of Christine Rankin’s book: ‘Light the Flame’ (2008) which I believe makes it almost easier to understand her:

    1) Her violent unpredictable father. Would ‘normalised violence’ in her family make the ‘anti-smacking law’ seem ineffectual to her (p.225)?
    What about the sense of betrayal of her mother as ‘enabler’ to the father’s violence (p.21)
    What would her father have said if he had been told by society it was against the law to hit children?
    How would her mother have felt if she knew that hitting children was against the law and socially unacceptable?

    2) She wants abusers locked away and their children to be removed and asserts that putting children with grandparents is often a poor solution, while also asserting that her own father ‘changed his behaviour’ (p.220) [although she herself was seldom at home to supervise while working at DSW from 1978] (p.58), and despite revealing that “dad would simply wait for me to disappear before he continued to torment her [mother]” (p.48). Am I missing something?

    3) She acknowledges that she did not provide her children with the “loving stable two parent family” that she now strongly advocates (p.52) and that “marriage can be tough, but that stable families are worth any sacrifice” (p.53). Her own mother was working full time and was sometimes absent for 3 weeks at a time (p.25). Is she trying to justify her own parents dysfunctional marriage or her own dysfunctional marriages, while preaching to others what she can’t herself practice? She “deeply regrets” not being there for her children when they were sick (p.59), but gained insight into the “pressures of living on a limited income”. Conversely, she was unsympathetic of staff without childcare strategies (p.133) while advocating for women to exercise family commitments (p.135).

    4) With a father who was a lifelong philanderer, surely this makes her distrustful of men and their motives in life and marriage? (p.22) How does she resolve this conflict with her own men? Were they attracted to her by her ‘visual flirtatiousness’ only to be ultimately doubted for their shallow attractions? Were they conquests to ‘conquer the father’? Does she unwittingly seek the emotional roller coaster and vigilant tension she grew up with, and get easily bored with predictability?

    5) A mother who uncompromisingly believed marriage was for life but openly discussed her ‘escape fantasies’ to her children (p.20). What pattern does (d) and (e) develop in a child’s mind as a juxtaposition of core beliefs? “I believe in marriage for life … but I constantly fantasise of better things”, perhaps?

    6) A mother who did not appear to form close friendships and was always concerned with her (‘glamorous’) appearance to the point of not wanting the priest to spoil her hairdo by sprinkling water on it during ‘Last Rites’ (p.18) when she died in 1991 (p.49). ‘Public perception was everything…’ (p.19). Does this explain Christine Rankin’s public dress code and vanities?

    7) Both of her parents had a strong work ethic … and she declares her own belief in a strong work ethic (p.57). However, when it came to dress code there was a certain hypocrisy: she banned casual dress for her staff and introduced the ‘corporate dress code’ (p.129) writing of a long-running battle with one employee over the wearing of a tie (p.130). However, when criticised for her own dress code, she goes to many and great lengths to justify her choices despite her employers wishes and criticism by the world at large (p.140, 166-167). So what is a ‘work ethic’ then?

    My opinion:

    The “glitzy, under-educated woman” (p.149) that she felt Labour derided her for was in fact the ‘glitzy under-educated woman’ that many beneficiaries despised. She did not represent the real ‘us’.
    Is she to believe her detractors, or suspect her supporters? Neither, she appears to have taken the easy path of self -justification.

    I am a woman exactly the same age as her, and have been a beneficiary on and off since 1987. I have fully endured her version of DSW / WINZ / ISS and it’s full range of abuses over 20 years. I have attended the disgraceful ‘work seminars’, and the pressure to work atop 12 foot ladders toting 20kg of fruit around my neck all day for the minimum wage and arsehole employers (to give me a “good start” p.151). I have hefted fat lambs in a tailing gang all day in the hot sun. I have endured sexual harassment from every employer I ever worked for. I even joined Shipley’s ‘Knowledge Economy’, forced to do a full time year of university study (rather than ease my way in part-time), and ended up with burnout and a $7500 debt, mainly from accrued interest. Relate to that Christine!
    Let me make it clear, two months on a benefit does NOT qualify Christine Rankin to ‘empathise’ with the unemployed … that is pure spin.

    Her assertion that ‘Transformational Leadership’ is the key to success as embodied by people such as e.g. Paul Holmes (p.233) is so ludicrous it frankly made me nauseous. Has it ever occurred to her that if she had chosen people with a ‘vocation’ for ISS, then her Transformational Leadership rhetoric would have merely preached to the converted?
    Christine Rankin’s mode of delivery, her obvious naivety, her assertions and name-dropping should be an embarrassment. She ‘assumes’ intelligence, yet her introspection is deeply flawed, a polite way of saying she’s self-contradictory and unwittingly dishonest (if only by omission). Her knowledge appears superficial and based on the need for approval from her cohorts, not from extensive research combined with raw first hand experience and careful debate and analysis.

    In my opinion she should never have risen above the position of ‘District Manager’ at Grey Lynn in 1985, that was her logical ceiling, intellectually and ethically. She is far from qualified for her current role on the Families Commission in every sense of the meaning. To me it appears she has never embodied a Labour ethic nor a Family ethic … her rebellions are too obvious.

    Little Toot (the opinionated one)

    • Brian,
      Forgive this wordy rant, I’ve just done a superficial skim read of Christine Rankin’s book: ‘Light the Flame’ (2008) which I believe makes it almost easier to understand her:

      Thank you for this considered and informative comment, Little Toot

  15. Brian, I didn’t even START analysing her self diagnosed ‘discalculia’, and subsequent struggles with financial control and expenditure as a CEO.
    You’ll need someone braver, for that.
    You could always throw a themed party and invite us all …

  16. I made a folk song about Christine R and put it on youtube

    link –

    She’s sure got guts – whatever her views on this and that