Perhaps we have also learned that this bonfire has been the price that comes with bringing an end to an era.
The Labour Alliance government campaigned at the last election on the need to turn our state services away from the excesses of the corporate-style approach ... and the vanities that came with it. Their call for greater accountability has gained significant popular support.
It was always clear that Christine Rankin would be a prime target for change. Her critics have seen her as the most extreme example of corporate-style self-indulgence within our public service. That she headed up Winz — the government department charged with the support of our most vulnerable citizens — only made the excesses more unpalatable.
In time, this court case may come to be seen as not about earrings, fashion, and sexism in the state services ... or even about the fine-points of employment law and chief executive contracts. It may be seen as the political price for stepping away from the publicly-funded excesses of the 1990s, and towards reclaiming the “public service we need” in New Zealand today.
October 1998 Department of Work and Income (Winz) established with Christine Rankin
at the helm.
Nov State Services Commission lists concerns about Rankin's leadership style.
Winz staff exposed for selling beneficiaries' private information to debt collectors and
Dec 1998 to Feb 1999 State Services Commission conducts a review into security at Winz.
Feb 1999 Rubbish sacks of confidential Winz documents found dumped on roadside
in Waikato. Prompts a second security review.
Feb-Apri1 1999 The department bungles student allowances as students wait months to
March Rankin told off after "attacking" Green MP Rod Donald through the media.
Education Review Office chief Judith Aitken writes to Wintringham complaining about
Rankin's "inappropriate behaviour".
April Criticisms of big spending on corporate advertisements and uniforms.
June Rankin's self-assessment for her performance review "voluminous", according
July News of the Wairakei aircraft charter breaks. Another review is started, through
the office of the auditor-general.
Rankin has an "extremely disturbing" meeting with opposition MP Steve Maharey. She
tells Wintringham she fears for her career.
Oct Auditor-general's report into the Wairakei affair. Rankin issued with a "formal
warning" by Wintringham.
Nov Performance review states Rankin has an "innovative and unorthodox style" but poses
a risk of criticism of the department.
Revelations that Work and Income staff concocted a story to secretly pay more than $100,000
to get rid of a senior executive.
Dec Wintringham asked by the new Labour Government about the possibility of
sacking Rankin. He says there are not yet grounds to.
Jan-Feb 2000 Management problems with student loans shows "no lessons learned" from
the allowances bungle.
Jan Revelations that Rankin had sacked an executive over the Wairakei affair and was
paying $100,000 plus in a settlement.
May The Hunn inquiry is damning of the department.
Rankin told she would probably not be reappointed. More legal inquiries over whether she
could be sacked.
Nov Rankin formally told her contract would not be renewed.
Dec Rankin's lawyer, Michael Quigg, asks Wintringham to reconsider his recommendation.
Feb 2001 A story featuring Rankin appears in the
Sunday Star-Times angering Maharey and Wintringham.
March Rankin writes to MP Sue Bradford threatening legal action, without telling Maharey.
April Rankin told about her department being merged. She writes to Wintringham
requesting her performance during 2000-2001 be reviewed. She threatens to sue.
25 June The Employment Court hearing begins.
Source Michael Wintringham / The
Dominion "How it all went wrong" 29 June 2001
Slane, The Listener
" It was a much bigger issue than you, Mrs Rankin, much more important than the way you
look. Don't you get it?"
Alan Galbraith, Crown defense lawyer
" The media should have stayed with the substance the true intent of Government's
restructuring and not some woman's dress style. We want to know how the Government should go
about reclaiming its public service for the public good."
Claire Breen, St Heliers, letter to the
New Zealand Herald
" Rankin may be guilty of crimes of the wardrobe, but her clothing never affected her
performance, only those of leery-eyed men around her. Her sins are not in the same league as the
scandal of the Incis police computer, or the hocking off of umpteem public assets, like railways
and electricity, or the systematic destruction of the health service."
Sandra Coney, columnist Sunday Star-Times
" She had a tendency to personalize issues and did not seem to realise that there were
bigger, more important issues than her. I was trying to convey a very simple message, a chief
executive of a public service department whose role is to deliver services to people who, on the whole,
can not afford expensive clothes, might want to give some thought to how they present in the
Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Services and Employment
" I'm sorry, this person has failed in the job. This person has not managed to maintain an
appropriate relationship with Ministers, this person has not projected the appropriate image of a
public service chief executive and hasn't managed to carry forward the department. She presided over
a succession of problems and has not managed to create the solutions required."
Mark Prebble, head of the Prime Minister's Department
" If any chief executive that was reporting to me had ever said anything like he could see
the breasts of a woman under a piece of clothing, I would have had him in my office and if it was
so, I would have had the State Services Commission straight after and I would want to know
every single provision available to me to get rid of him."
Jenny Shipley, MP and leader of the National Party, concerning Mark Prebble
" I agree that Christine Rankin looks professional but which profession?"
D.L., Whangarei, letter to the New Zealand Herald
" She would say to me: "I have done everything the new minister has wanted and more, and
it won't go away." There was no Michael Wintringham, her employer the State Services
Commissioner, there for her. She stood alone."
Allan Hogg, husband of Christine Rankin
" What I had not expected, however, was the on-going saga of problems that plagued the
department and particularly Ms Rankin almost from the start of her term as chief executive. I have
to say that I would expect a CEO of a government department of 5,000 staff on $250,000 a year
to take responsibility for effective communication with her Minister."
" [Her attitude] was bordering almost on an unwillingness to accept any criticism. I have
rarely experienced that level of defensiveness in a chief executive. There was a mismatch between
Mrs Rankin's skills and those the new chief executive would need."
Michael Wintringham, State Services Commissioner.
Christine Rankin has been wronged, but not as grievously as she claims. She might have
suffered some ridiculous sexist insults by officials and ministers, but she also made a hash of
the Winz job. Rankin was wrong if she thought her contract would be renewed, she had to be
replaced. The claims about sexism, brutishness and tall poppies are colourful and no doubt
contain some truth. But in the end they are irrelevant."
" The leader of the beneficiaries' department cannot waste money on flying bureaucrats to
expensive resorts and expect to survive. Rankin also spent vast sums on re-branding the
department, an entirely unnecessary expense based on the fatuous notion that Winz was a
corporation operating in the marketplace. Rankin's cult-of-personality management style, full of hype,
glitz and razzamatazz, was a caricature of the 1980's-style corporate evangelism. It was entirely out
of place in the public service..."
Editorial, Sunday Star-Times.
" The Rankin furore is a direct and predictable outcome of the determination to force
Labour's Employment Relations Act through parliament. But in her claim, because the State
Services Commission is not renewing her fixed-term employment contract, she is doing no more
than exploit a huge loophole in the Act.
" This flaw makes it impossible for an employer to take it for granted that an employee, such
as Rankin, on a fixed-term contract will clear out when her term expires, or ask respectfully if
she can have it renewed as a privilege, not as a right. That's the way contracts should work. It's
the way contracts in the business community work, If you give a security firm a three-year
contract to look after your building, you don't find them assuming you will automatically renew it
on expiry. And in the employment field that's the way they worked until this Act."
Frank Haden, columnist Sunday Star-Times
" Watching her give evidence raised dozens of questions. My first thought was: How could
this woman ever have been appointed head of a government department? How much
sympathy would she get form the many thousands of unemployed who have suffered at the hands of
her department? How many students, remembering their long and painful wait for student
grants, would join her in empathetic tears? Surely, a government should have the right to hire and
fire the people in charge of implementing policy?"
Bill Ralston, columnist The Independent
" Whatever the outcome of the Christine Rankin witch hunt, many of her senior staff in
Napier consider her a very caring, enthusiastic person, always concerned with the many people trying
to cope and often living on a pittance.
" Unfortunately, those judging her from "ivory towers" often have little empathy with
those people Rankin fully understood. No wonder she did not enjoy or attend meetings with
often faceless bureaucrats who rarely related to anyone but their kind."
Pat Magill, Napier, letter to the Sunday Star-Times
" Regardless of whether Christine Rankin snaffles more of the taxpayer's money in addition
to her huge salary, the remarkably elaborate grievance procedures available to her are staggering
in contrast to the denial of normally recognised rights for those at the opposite end of the
Winz spectrum beneficiaries under investigation by the Winz benefit control unit.
" On the strength of anonymous tip-offs, often followed by snooping around the
neighbourhood, unit investigators typically arrived unannounced on the accused's doorstep, provide vague
outlines of the alleged misdemeanours and ask for a statement or information to be supplied at
short notice. They may also conduct, again at short notice, an interview with the accused on their
own in a Winz office. If the beneficiary is fortunate enough to have access to a local support
organisation (usually volunteers) he or she will have some informed advice, but set against the
resources available to Winz' trained investigators, even that may be a far cry from the concept of justice.
If no offence is found, the accused may be left in a state of continuing anxiety with no
confirmation of the outcome.
" The contrast with the hearing being conducted for Mrs Rankin's benefit graphically
illustrates the situation of one law for the rich and quite another for the poor..."
David Trantor, West Coast Unemployed Workers' Rights Centre
" In light of Mrs Rankin's employee's petition of support I offer a final solution. Let her
clients have their say on the outcome, because the customer is always right."
A.L., Mt Roskill, letter to the New Zealand Herald
" I would like to know why I and many other students have not been called as witnesses
in Christine Rankin's case. Last year, like many others, I received my student loan almost
three months after the study year started. This year the government's policy of wiping off interest
has not been implemented for many students because Winz has not transferred their loan accounts
to Inland Revenue.
" I suggest that supporters of Ms Rankin, who think she is being victimized because of
her clothes and earrings, have never been either students or beneficiaries whose lives have
been blighted by procedural problems with Winz."
Mike Batten, Sandringham, letter to the New Zealand Herald
" It is true that her personal appearance and leadership style may have been spectacularly
ill-advised for the chief executive of a government department ministering to the people out
of money and down on their luck. It may also be true that Mrs Rankin's deficiencies as chief
executive of Winz were such that she occupied more of Mr Wintringham's time than all the
other public service bosses put together. And she may have been arrogant or naïve (or both) in
not seeing that she was politically vulnerable because of the controversies rocking her
department, such as the exorbitant Wairakei staff training exercise and the incompetent handling of
" But what Chief Employment Court Judge Tom Goddard has to determine is whether
Mrs Rankin was fairly treated in being denied a renewal of her contract, or whether as she alleges
Mr Wintringham was influenced by vindictive politicians who simply didn't like her style. As
in so many Employment Court cases, the fairness of the process followed in dumping Mrs
Rankin may assume greater importance than substantive issues such as the way she performed her job.
In the final analysis, the legs and the earrings are merely peripheral."
Editorial, The Evening Post
" I had this contract to build a fence for $8,000. I've built the fence but the silly people
who signed the contract say they do not want to build another fence and won't give me a new
contract. I heard them comment that they didn't like my automatic nailer, and they thought
the stripes I have painted on my wagon were suggestive. So I'll sue them for $800,000, buy a
boat and retire to the Bay of Islands with my devoted spouse (she is very supportive here) and we
will live happily ever after. Have I got it right?"
D.R Jennings, Northcote, letter to the New Zealand Herald
" The former head of Winz says that she has received no job offers this year. Is this to become
the new eligibility test at Winz, or do we still expect the unemployed to be actively seeking work?"
John Stansfield, Waiheke Island, letter to the New Zealand Herald
" Her passion and zeal for her job as chief executive was unparalleled. We'll wait for the
judgment. But it has certainly exposed some practices in the public service that might require
some examination if the allegations are proven. The case demonstrated that every person, whether
a chief executive or in a less senior position, deserved fair treatment."
Michael Quigg, lawyer for Christine Rankin
" [The suit] is obviously important to the government in terms of its relationship with
chief executives. No government would want to see a re-run of this sort of performance each time
a CEO is not re-employed."
Alan Galbraith, Crown lawyer for Michael Wintringham
" I feel free and I am very, very pleased to be going home to hide away for a while. I just want
to say thank you to the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who've supported me.
I think they've been very brave and I really appreciate that."
Christine Rankin, on leaving the Employment Court
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