To this Letters Main Page

Last Diary

Next Diary

To this Letters Features

To the Index







    Letter No.149
    16 July, 2001


    25 June 2001

  • The Rankin Case begins in the Employment Court in Wellington. Winz CEO Christine Rankin is represented by her lawyer Michael Quigg. Rankin has previously told the media that her story will "shock and horrify" New Zealanders.

    State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham is represented by a team of Crown lawyers led by Alan Galbraith.

    Chief Employment Court Judge Thomas Goddard will hear and rule on the case.

    ekersclean.jpg - 49764 Bytes Paul Ekers — New Zealand Herald

  • Michael Quigg opens by telling the court that Wintringham had not treated Christine Rankin fairly and this caused her harm. Quigg says his intention is to prove that after its election, the Labour Party did not give Rankin a fair go, and that Michael Wintringham had treated her unfairly because of political interference from the government.

  • Christine Rankin is the first to give evidence. Her testimony focuses on a meeting she had with Michael Wintringham on 25 May 2000. She says that Wintringham told her he was giving her advanced notice that she would not be reappointed as CEO of Winz when her contract finished the next year. Rankin claims that Wintringham told her that Prime Minister Helen Clark and Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard had said there was no way she would serve another term. She claims that Wintringham offered to get her a recruitment officer to help her find a position, suggesting Telecom, the World Bank, or a position in Australia.

    Rankin also testifies about her relationship with the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey. She says he came to her office in July 1999, while he was in the Opposition, in the midst of the Wairakei charter flight affair. She says Maharey told her and a colleague that he hated the way Winz did things, that they were out of touch with the taxpayers and those on welfare, and that there was no way they would be working for him. Rankin alleges that Maharey said she would be excellent fodder leading up to the election as she was unpopular and the organisation was in disarray. Rankin: "I was shaken and frightened this would spell the end of my career as a public servant".

    Rankin then refers to other meetings she had with Maharey after the election. She says that Maharey had told her that a fresh start was needed and that he wanted her to change so that they could work together. He mentioned her earrings, sunglasses, skirts and hair. She says she had felt intimidated and victimised.

    Rankin also says that Mark Prebble, head of the Prime Minister's Office, had said that her earrings were a sexual come-on and that at a previous meeting, when she had moved, he could distinguish her breasts and that made him felt very uncomfortable. She claims Prebble said her legs were a distraction. She also says that both Prebble and Wintringham told her that they would publicly deny off-the-record conversations they had with her.

    Rankin says that in the last two years she has been frightened to go out in public. Rankin: "I've been spat at, hissed at, abused and yelled at. I've had bullets in the mail and death threats. My relationship with my husband, children, and friends has suffered. I don't feel free to do any of the things I did before."

  • Rankin also reports that she did not currently have any job offers.

  • During the last hour of the day, crown lawyer Alan Galbraith begins his cross-examination of Rankin by running through a list of problems Winz has had while she was CEO.

    scottdistress.jpg - 36302 Bytes
    Tom Scott — The Daily News

    26 June 2001

  • Alan Galbraith continues his cross-examination of Christine Rankin by arguing that the decision not to reappoint her as CEO of Winz was based on her performance and skills, not her appearance. Galbraith says that given her department's record, she should never have expected to be reappointed. He says that even the previous Minister of Employment Peter McCardle raised concerns about Rankin's leadership style and had identified her as a political risk.

    Galbraith says that soon after the election, Steve Maharey told Rankin that he was prepared to work with her providing she made some changes to her appearance and communication style, but that Rankin was resistant. That resistance was illustrated when, after the Minister had told Rankin that he wanted Winz to stay out of the media spotlight, Rankin agreed to a Holmes television interview and to be interviewed by the Sunday Star-Times.

    Galbraith argues that Mark Prebble's comments about Rankin's appearance was frank advice about how she would best cope with the change of government. He says Prebble's intent was to point out to her that her personal style was critical.

    scott-comeon.jpg - 27327 Bytes
    Tom Scott — The Daily News

    Galbraith's cross-examination of Rankin focuses on a number of embarrassing incidents at Winz, including the Wairakei charter flight affair, security problems including Winz staff selling client information to debt collectors and confidential documents found on a roadside, problems with the student loan schemes, and her threat to sue Green MP Sue Bradford for defamation.

  • Winz business development manager Helene Quilter gives evidence in support of Rankin. She says that she met with Rankin after the meetings she had had with Maharey, Wintringham and Prebble and that Rankin had been extremely distressed by them, saying she felt alone and afraid.

    27 June 2001

  • Christine Rankin's husband Alan Hogg testifies that their family lives in fear in the sense that their lives have been exposed and invaded. Hogg: "The normal social routines that we had as a husband and wife, simple things like going to the supermarket, meant that Christine was verbally abused." Hogg says he felt that his wife had been "hung out to dry" and had been deserted by Michael Wintringham.

  • Winz operations manager Catherine Cooper gives evidence that the Ministerial team responsible for an inquiry into Winz, led by Don Hunn, became known as the "hanging committee". Cooper says the terms of reference for the inquiry were originally written by Trevor Mallard but were revised when Hunn said they were inappropriate because they focussed too much on the chief executive. Cooper also claims that Hunn had said that the first draft of the report was insufficient to have any basis for removing Christine Rankin as chief executive.

  • Former Winz advisory board chairperson Lincoln Gould gives evidence that he felt Rankin was capable of running the department and of managing the changes required by the new, Labour-led government.

  • Winz Information Technology manager Stewart Watson says there was no hiding of information, either from Rankin or Maharey, about a massive IT expenditure overrun last year.

    28 June 2001

  • State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham takes the stand giving evidence of a "disastrous" three years for Winz with Christine Rankin at the helm. Wintringham says that problems with Rankin had been so all-consuming that he had spent more time with her than he did with all the 36 other public sector chiefs combined.

    Wintringham says that while Rankin was enthusiastic and had potential, leading the government's largest department demanded a level of sophistication that Rankin struggled to achieve. Wintringham notes that just one month after Winz was established, the department had a "self-protective control mentality" thrown up around it. He was also concerned that Rankin demanded total loyalty from her staff. He thought both of these things were symptomatic of an organisation in change, but says that three years later this attitude continues, illustrated by a recent petition signed by 65 Winz staff headed up: "Christine shines above all the others".

    Wintringham says that the Wairakei charter flight affair was a monumental embarrassment to the government and that Rankin was the person ultimately responsible. He said this came on the back of problematic handling of student loans, confidential information being sold by Winz staff and rubbish bags of documents found on the side of a road in Waikato. He says her handling of an $85 million computer project showed a lack of fiscal understanding.

    Wintringham says he tried to help Rankin establish a good relationship with the government and defended her through the media, at meetings, in speeches and letters to the editor. However, he told Rankin in November of his pending decision not to reappoint her. The next month the government proposed to merge the Social Policy Ministry with Winz and Wintringham asked Trevor Mallard what the government was looking for in a new chief executive. When he was told, Wintringham concluded Rankin was not suitable for the job.

    He says his decision was reinforced by the fact she took a media interview against the expressed wishes of her Minister, she sent a letter to an MP threatening to sue for defamation, and the presentation of the "Christine shines above all others" petition from her staff to reinstate her. Wintringham says that no public service chief executive expected to be reappointed and that over the last decade, 20 had not been.

    Wintringham says that at one point Rankin was so unhappy with her performance review that she wrote to him detailing her problems with it and threatened to sue.

    christineruth.jpg - 19497 Bytes Garrick Tremain — The Press

    29 June 2001

  • Michael Wintringham is cross-examined by lawyer Michael Quigg and spends much of the day defending points he had made yesterday. Quigg disputes Wintringham's report of Rankin's leadership, saying that Rankin did not even recognise herself in the 90 pages of evidence he had presented. Quigg says that Rankin had no idea how endangered her job had been and that Wintringham's serious concerns had been kept secret from her. Quigg says that a letter Wintringham had sent to Rankin after the Wairakei charter flight affair did not communicate to her that she had failed to meet her performance standards as a chief executive. Wintringham considered this letter to be a formal and final employment warning but Quigg argues that Rankin didn't take the letter as a formal warning as it only had an oblique sentence saying he "would not protect her again".

    rankinscottsucceed.jpg - 58472 Bytes
    Tom Scott — The Daily News

    2 July 2001

  • Michael Wintringham takes the stand for a third day. He admits he avoided answering a query from a reporter regarding a "face doesn't fit" clause in Rankin's employment contract. The clause states that if a relationship with a Minister had irrevocably broken down, the employee may be dismissed. Wintringham says he felt that making this information public would have created problems for Rankin forging a relationship with her Minister. He says his answer was not lie but that he did not say all he knew and that in the same circumstances he would have taken the same line before a parliamentary select committee.

    Wintringham tells the court that Rankin was not a credible candidate for reappointment because she did not have the confidence of her Minister or the necessary skills. He also says that Winz had become a lightning rod for criticism around behaviour and style of the department in a way that undermined the credibility of the whole public service.

    3 July 2001

  • Minister of Social Services Steve Maharey takes the stand saying that Christine Rankin was too resistant to change. Maharey says that Rankin took criticism personally, had a "perverse" attraction to the media, and simply did not have the right skills for the job. He says that once Michael Wintringham told him that a "face doesn't fit" clause could not remove Rankin, he set about developing a working relationship with her. Maharey says that the Labour Party had been elected on a mandate for change and that Winz, which was behaving more like a business than a welfare organisation, was an obvious place to start. Maharey says that once he was working with Rankin he made an effort to defend her against the call from other politicians for her head.

    solidarity.jpg - 32686 Bytes
    Garrick Tremain — The Press

    Referring to the Hunn report, Maharey says it was not an elaborate scheme to get rid of her. He says she took the review too personally and that she pushed against criticism rather than taking it on board. He says that was one of the main difficulties he had with her. Maharey: "I thought she lacked insight and maturity from a risk management perspective, particularly during the initial period of the government." He says that he would not have supported her reappointment if Wintringham had put her name forward.

  • Don Hunn, a former State Services Commissioner and author of a Ministerial review of Winz, describes the response to his report by Rankin and senior managers of Winz as a battle that went on so long that both sides finally gave up. Hunn says he was confronted with denial and that there was very little criticism the department would accept. He says the "hanging committee" was a term he had used to describe to what the inquiry team was not going to be.

  • Wira Gardiner, a former CEO of Te Puni Kokiri says that Christine Rankin had vision, energy and determination to succeed. He predicts that the decision not to reappoint her will destroy her career chances both in NZ and overseas.

    breasttest.gif - 15955 Bytes
    Tom Scott — The Daily News

    4 July 2001

  • Mark Prebble, the head of the Prime Minister's Department, testifies that the outfit Christine Rankin wore when he first met her was indecent and offensive and could have been seen as a sexual advance. Prebble says he agonised after that meeting how he would tell Rankin that her attire was inappropriate. When he did talk to Rankin about her appearance, Prebble says he made a comment about earrings having a sexual connotation. He says he told her that the right colour for a public servant was grey and that buying clothes from a chain store would be a safer option for her. He says his comment about the government being "presbyterian" meant that the government did not want to see flashy displays of commercial-type managerialism. He says Rankin responded positively to the meeting saying she would see if some low-cut necklines and short skirts might be eliminated from her workday wardrobe.

    ekersangles.jpg - 30359 Bytes
    Paul Ekers — New Zealand Herald

  • Dame Margaret Bazley — one of NZ's longest serving senior public servants and former chief executive of the Department of Social Welfare — takes the stand. At the request of the government she has postponed her retirement for a few months to take on the top job at the new Ministry of Social Development while the search is on to fill the position. Bazley says she had been subject to the same threats as Christine Rankin during her career as a senior public servant. She testifies that bullets in the mail, death threats, threats of gang rape and burning in effigies "...go with the territory".

    Bazley says it had always been the role of chief executives to manage their relationships with their Ministers and that chief executives had to "move heaven and earth" to make those relationships work. She says there has always been an unwritten rule that if relationship can't work, you resign.

    Bazley says that working with a new government is very difficult. Bazley: "My way of getting through it, when I have experienced that, as I did with Minister of Social Services Steve Maharey, has been to sit down with the Minister and say, well, we've got a bit of a problem, and we have to try and work out how we're going to move forward."

    Bazley appeared to be surprised to hear that things had gotten so bad that Rankin had asked for a meeting with the Solicitor-General. She said she had never thought of that as an option and that if things had gotten to that point, she would need to resign.

  • After the Employment Court proceedings conclude for the day, Winz staff give Rankin a send-off party at the department's national office.

    5 July 2001

  • Christine Rankin's last day as Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Work and Income.

  • At parliament, Michael Wintringham appears before the Government Administration Select Committee. Wintringham says that he was the one who first proposed the merging of Winz and the Ministry of Social Policy because neither were functioning as the Ministers wanted them to.

    In light of his admission in the Employment Court earlier in the week that he had once avoided answering questions about a "face doesn't fit" clause in Christine Rankin's employment contract, Wintringham reassures the committee that he is a truthful person. Wintringham says however he would not necessarily volunteer additional information that would cause embarrassment to a Minister or would cause distress to an individual.

  • National Party leader Jenny Shipley calls for Mark Prebble to be sacked. Shipley says she does not know how Prebble could effectively do his job given the sort of comments he made regarding Christine Rankin's attire.

    6 July 2001

  • An email circulates around NZ businesses urging women to don short skirts and big earrings to show solidarity with the embattled Winz boss. Our Media Watch reports few women actually wearing mini-skirts and big earrings on the day. However, in Britain, The Guardian, The Times and The Independent all run articles on the "dangly jangly" tale of Christine Rankin Day. According to the NZPA, the best media quips of the last week are all aired in the British press.

    rankinevansthrilled.jpg - 72125 Bytes
    Malcolm Evans — New Zealand Herald

    9 July 2001

  • Crown lawyer Alan Galbraith tells the court that it was Christine Rankin's own assertion that the government would not let Wintringham reappoint her as Winz CEO that was "fatal" to her claim. Galbraith says it was Rankin rather than Wintringham who is responsible if there was any damage to her employment prospects.

  • Ruth Dyson, Associate Minister of Social Services testifies that a meeting she attended with Rankin about a need for her to change her glasses, hair, earrings and skirts was about style and substance, not about the fashion of the day. Dyson says that if Rankin saw the meeting as an attack on her personal dress then she misunderstood the point. Dyson says that the message was about the public perception of the department and Rankin.

  • PM Helen Clark says that Mark Prebble has been an outstanding policy advisor and that she is entirely happy with his performance at work. Clark says she has no cause to review Prebble's position as head of the Prime Minister's Department after the Rankin lawsuit.

  • A former Treasury manager, Karen Erenstrom, says Mark Prebble was part of a sexist culture at Treasury that caused women there to quit at twice the rate as men. Erenstrom and another female colleague took personal grievance cases against Treasury when Mark Prebble held a senior position there and she implies that Prebble contributed to the Treasury culture that made it difficult for women to have their skills recognised and that many women left because they knew they would not be promoted.

    10 July 2001

  • Senior Treasury officials defend Mark Prebble's role in changing a sexist culture that had existed at Treasury. Treasury Deputy secretary Angela Hauk-Willis says that Prebble was part of the solution that has seen female staff turnover drop to the same level as male turnover. Treasury policy co-ordinator Lesley Haines says Prebble was one of the people in authority there who had taken steps to make Treasury a more family-friendly organisation in order to recruit and retain staff, particularly women.

  • Summing up for Christine Rankin, Michael Quigg argues: that Rankin had no idea her job was threatened to the extent her boss, Michael Wintringham, revealed in court and he had therefore failed to be a good employer; that Wintringham allowed himself to be politically influenced in his decision not to reappoint her; and that her fixed-term contract was not technically fixed.

    Quigg also says that the claim is for $1.24 million rather than the $818,000 as earlier reported in the media. In all, Rankin gives the government three options: 1) $1.24 million comprised of $770,778 for three years' lost earnings, $117,000 for six month's notice allegedly not given, $300,000 for harm to future employment and $50,000 for exemplary damages; 2) her job back, plus $200,000 for humiliation and injury to feeling, and appropriate compensation for lost earnings; 3) her job back and her contract recognised as being of open tenure, not fixed, and $50,000 for distress and humiliation.

  • Crown defence lawyer Alan Galbraith summarises by saying that the State Services Act 1988 had been changed so that chief executives are now hired on short-term contracts. This is so they could be held accountable for their leadership and, on that basis, Rankin had no guarantee or expectation of reappointment and that Wintringham had every right to decide that she was not up to the job. Galbraith argues that Wintringham had publicly protected Rankin and given her counsel to the best of his ability and therefore was a good employer. He also says there is no proof that anything Wintringham did was the cause of Rankin's distress.

  • It is expected that Judge Thomas Goddard will take several weeks to arrive at his decision.

  • Employment lawyer Phillipa Muir comments that Rankin's chances of winning her suit are slim. Muir says that Rankin had to prove that Wintringham had breached their contract, but much of her evidence focused on politicians and other public servants rather than on Wintringham. Muir says that Rankin also had to answer the question of whether Cabinet would have reappointed her if Wintringham had put her name forward. The other difficulty Muir sees for Rankin is the explicit fixed-term contract that states there was no expectation of reappointment. She says Rankin's reputation was tarnished but the highest previous payouts for this have been between $50,000 and $70,000. Muir also says there is merit in the Crown's argument that, by going public, Rankin damaged her own future employment prospects.

    evansstopthief.jpg - 66827 Bytes
    Malcolm Evans — New Zealand Herald


    The Dominion 26 June 2001 "'I was political fodder'" by Leah Haines; 26 June 2001 "Clark `can't see any point' in testifying" by NZPA; 27 June 2001 "Crown lists `litany of mistakes'' by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 27 June 2001 "So much muck for the raking" by Jane Clifton; 28 June 2001 "We feared for our lives _ husband" by Leah Haines; 28 June 2001 "Jonathan lowers the tone" by Jane Clifton; 28 June 2001 "Ministers accused of double standards"; 29 June 2001 "Boss tells of disasterous three years" by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 29 June 2001 "No decree on dress style, says Maharey"; 29 June 2001 "How it all went wrong _ according to Michael Wintringham"; 30 June 2001 "Boss accused of unbalanced damning spin" by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 3 July 2001 "'I would never stand up and lie'" by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 4 July 2001 "'I may have sworn'" by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 3 July 2001 "Wintringham may have tough time at Parliament" by Tracy Watkins; 5 July 2001 "Presenting the material evidence" by Diana McCurdy; 5 July 2001 "That indecent outfit" by Leah Haines and Glen Scanlon; 5 July 2001 "Bullets `go with the territory'" by Leah Haines; 6 July 2001 "I'll answer truthfully _ Wintringham" by Nick Venter; 6 July 2001 "Opposition MPs call for Mark Prebble's head" by Jonathan Milne; 7 July 2001 "I wouldn't dare comment _ Prebble" by Jonathan Milne; 7 July 2001 "Not much show of solidarity on streets"; 10 July 2001 "Prebble `part of sexist culture'" by Nick Venter; 11 July 2001 "I feel free _ Rankin" by Leah Haines; 11 July 2001 "Claims of sexism in high places"; 11 July 2001 "Treasury women stand up for Prebble" by Nick Venter;
    New Zealand Herald 21 June 2001 "Crown appeals over Rankin" by NZPA; 22 June 2001 "Rankin petition query"; 26 June 2001 "Officials planned to lie says Rankin" by Francesca Mold and Vernon Small; 26 June 2001 "Dressed to kill for a big day in court" by Francesca Mold and Vernon Small; 27 June 2001 "Rankin tells of plot to sack her" by Francesca Mold; 27 June 2001 "MPs find Rankin case irresistible fodder for question time" by Vernon Small; 28 June 2001 "Rankin felt deserted, says husband" by Francesca Mold; 28 June 2001 "Serious Shipley savages PM and `rotten double standard'" by Audrey Young; 29 June 2001 "Rankin struggled to cope" by Francesca Mold; 30 June _ 1 July 2001 "Private face of the public sector" by Audrey Young; 30 June _ 1 July 2001 "Yes minister _ life imitates art" by John Armstrong; 3 July 2001 "Rankin's boss: I would never lie" by Francesca Mold; 3 July 2001 "Earrings against sexism" by Anne Beston; 4 July 2001 "Minister gets grilling before court evidence" by Audrey Young; 4 July 2001 "Maharey: I didn't mind, the public did" by Francesca Mold; 5 July 2001 "Prebble tells `Rankin offended me'"; 6 July 2001 "I made a `pig's ear' of it: Wintringham" by Audrey Young; 6 July 2001 "Ardour for Rankin Day all out of legs" by Rosaleen Macbrayne; 7-8 July 2001 "Haunting echo in dress row" by Chris Daniels; 7-8 July 2001 "Death threats `go with the territory' of fame" by Warren Gamble; 7-8 July 2001 "The day fashion became political" by Anne Beston and NZPA; 7-8 July 2001 "Backstage boffin in limelight" by Audrey Young; 7-8 July 2001 "The grey, pin-striped empire strikes back" by Francesca Mold; 7-8 July 2001 "Can these careers be saved?"; 7-8 July 2001 "Letters to the Editor"; 7-8 July 2001 "Rankin hearing is not a battle of the sexes" by John Rougham; 7-8 July 2001 "Ballad of the coal miner's daughter" by Gordon McLauchlan; 7-8 July 2001 Refashioning public service" by John Armstrong; 7-8 July 2001 "Image is everything" by Carroll du Chateau; 10 July 2001 "Boring dress is the best way to highlight true talents" by Louisa Herd; 10 July 2001 "Lawsuit damaging for job prospects: Crown" by Francesca Mold; 10 July 2001 "PM stands by Rankin dress critic" by Audrey Young; 10 July 2001 "Maharey not too chipper" by Vernon Small; 11 July 2001 "Letters to the Editor"; 11 July 2001 "'Leased bosses' bill $7.6m" by NZPA; 11 July 2001 "Relieved Rankin heads home `for rest'" by Francesca Mold and Angela Gregory;

    The Daily News 26 June 2001 "Rankin `too sexy for her job'" by NZPA; 27 June 2001 "Rankin `sacked' for incompetence, not sexy image, Government says" by NZPA; 28 June 2001 "Couple's lives invaded, Rankin's husband says" and "Labour accused of sexual double standards" by NZPA; 29 June 2001 "Details of Rankin `disasters' heard" by NZPA; 30 June 2001 "Rankin boss faces accusations" by NZPA; 3 July 2001 "Commissioner `hurt' by Rankin's evidence" by NZPA; 4 July 2001 "Maharey "Rankin resistant to change"" by NZPA; 4 July 2001 "Rankin set for farewell party" by Jonathan Milne; 4 July 2001 "Wintringham faces committee"; 5 July 2001 "Rankin indecent, offensive in revealing breasts, says Prebble" by NZPA; 6 July 2001 "Wintringham asserts honesty" by Nick Venter, NZPA; 7 July 2001 "Rankin Day dangled before Poms" by NZPA; 9 July 2001 "PM wait-and-see on top public servants" by Jonathan Milne; 11 July 2001 "Verdict weeks away, but Rankin `free'" by NZPA; 11 July 2001 "Treasury's most senior woman backs Prebble"; 11 July 2001
    The Independent 4 July 2001 "The skit of the short skirt" by Bill Ralston;
    Sunday Star Times 1 July 2001 "Sexism aside, Rankin failed" Editorial; 1 July 2001 "The knives come out for Rankin" by Rosemary McLeod; 1 July 2001 "The repackaging of Rankin" by Rosemary McLeod; 1 July 2001 "Fashion victim" by Rosemary McLeod; 1 July 2001 "Rankin spectacle just one of three government blunders" by Frank Haden; 8 July 2001 "Letters to the editor"; 8 July 2001 "A judge who does not bow" by Tony Potter; 8 July 2001 "The almost naked civil servant confirms what we all knew" by Michael Laws; 8 July 2001 "No more Mr Nice Guy" by Anthony Hubbard
    The Evening Post 3 July 2001 "Legs and earrings a peripheral issue" Editorial
    National Business Review 6 July 2001 "Rankin' with the best"
    Listener 23 June 2001 "The Naked Civil Servant" by Gordon Campbell

    To the Top
    Top of Page
    This Letter's Main Page
    Stats | Subscribe | Index |
    The Jobs Letter Home Page | The Website Home Page
    The Jobs Research Trust -- a not-for-profit Charitable Trust
    constituted in 1994
    We publish The Jobs Letter