Sunday, 21 June 2009

Quick hit: Rankin will front the Vote No campaign

Ye gads.
Families Commissioner Christine Rankin's decision to be a face of the "vote no" campaign for the smacking referendum is "quite incredible", Green MP Sue Bradford says.

Ms Bradford was the architect of a 2007 law change which removed the defence of reasonable force in child abuse cases. Ms Rankin vehemently opposed the law change and was spokeswoman of For The Sake Of Our Children Trust.

Tomorrow Ms Rankin will front at the launch of a campaign urging voters to vote no to the question "should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand"?

That is despite Prime Minister John Key last week saying he would not expect Ms Rankin to continue to campaign against the law change, and the Families Commission saying it supported the new law.

"I am surprised because I had thought that Christine Rankin was under strict instructions from the Government to keep her head down now that she's been appointed a Families Commissioner," Ms Bradford told NZPA.

"It seems extraordinary that she's willing and able to be the public face of the vote `no' campaign. . . it's quite incredible."

Ms Rankin was paid $565 a day up to 100 days a year in her position as a commissioner and as such was supposed to represent the interests of all New Zealand families, Ms Bradford said.

She questioned how that was compatible with being "out there on the front line campaigning for the `no' vote".

"I just do not see how her position as a Families Commissioner is tenable and would ask John Key and Paula Bennett to urgently reconsider her position."

Ms Rankin last week refused to comment on the referendum as the media had "ripped her to shreds" when she was appointed to the commission last month.

Ms Rankin's history of extravagant spending as a public servant and her relationship with a newly widowed man were publicised widely after her appointment to the commission.

The citizen initiated non-binding referendum will be held by postal ballot from July 31 to August 21. It was forced by a petition organised by opponents of the 2007 law change.

Bob McCoskrie, director of Family First NZ which is leading the "vote no" campaign, said Ms Rankin had not expressed any concerns about being involved.

"She's got freedom to speak out on it," he said.
From Stuff (who have changed their article to be about Rankin not going to the Vote No campaign launch)

Zoiks! I haz no wrdz. Feel free to share yours while I phaff around the internet in a speechless fashion.


Anita said...

John Key is not going to have a good week, again.

Tui said...

Wow, I wonder why the media might possibly "rip to shreds" someone who is obviously contradiction the position of the Commission she's supposed to be heading.

I don't GET why they would appoint her - it must have been obvious she would do this! Sheesh!

Tui said...

Also, that stuff article has either been changed quite drastically, or wasn't the one you meant to link to?

Julie said...

Thanks Tui, I've put a note next to thee link, not sure what happened there!

Anonymous said...

Both Rankin and the campaign will look even sillier. It's a win-win situation.

Idiot/Savant said...

"She's got freedom to speak out on it," he said.

Not anymore, she doesn't. While the old Public Service Code of Conduct did not apply to Crown Entities, the new Standards of Integrity and Conduct does. And the Families Commission is explicitly included. The Code requires that agencies and their employees are politically neutral at all times. As a board member, Rankin is expected to uphold it and act in a manner so as to retain the confidence not just of the present government, but of future ones as well. Fronting a referendum campaign on a politically contentious issue is not compatible with that.

Rankin may just have succeeded in getting herself sacked again.

Anonymous said...

She has a right to her views, have you not heard of freedom of thought and speech? Good for her, for her honesty, ingegrity and plain old common sense, more than Labour or National have shown. Tell me, has child abuse maimings and killings stopped? Nope, the papers are still full of them, so Bradford was wrong on that count, but that never gets discussed, does it.

Tui said...

@Anon: have you not heard of the neutrality of the public service? Of public servants doing what they're paid by us to do, i.e. serve us (& our duly elected representatives), not their own opinions?

Hugh said...

I don't want to be uncharitable, but if members of the Family Commission were speaking up in favour of people voting 'yes' on the referendum, somehow I don't think their non-adherence to the Code of Conduct would be being so sternly criticised, at least not in this forum.

Idiot/Savant said...

Damn, Tui beat me to it.

Public servants and employees of the wider state sector (which means Crown Entities, but not SOEs, CRIs or school boards of trustees) must be politically neutral. The Standards of Integrity and Conduct specifically state that they must:

# maintain the political neutrality required to enable us to work with current and future governments
# carry out the functions of our organisation, unaffected by our personal beliefs

There are more details here, but this basically rules out political activity, and a higher degree of impartiality is expected the further up the food chain you go. As effectively a board member of a Crown Entity, Rankin would be expected to adhere to the very highest standards. And she should know this, having spent her entire workign career (give or take the last few years) in the public service (though, it should be noted, under a slightly different regime which did not apply to Crown Entities).

Julie said...

Thanks IdiotSavant for that useful piece of information. Question Time on Tuesday is it?

Anon at 10.59pm, so if the amendment of s59 is repealed and we go back to the old s59 will that end all violence against children? It had many many years to achieve that outcome and failed. The new law has had what two years? Societal change takes a little bit longer than that, and this is only part of bringing about that change.

Frankly if I was looking for solutions to the problem we have with child abuse then I'd be more likely to look at what organisations like Barnardos, Plunket and Women's Refuge were saying than what reasonably recently invented lobby groups spun at me.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: no; I'd be doing my nut about it at my own place. I'm not a public servant (pretty obviously, I'd have thought), but I take those principles of neutrality expressed in the SI&C pretty seriously.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: I should add: the Commission as a body has said it supports the law. That's not a violation of the SI&C - the Commission is required to "respect the authority of the government of the day". they can no more be seen to say (outside of an advisory process) "this law stinks and people should overturn it" than MSD or the police can.

Tui said...

@Hugh: well, no, I probably wouldn't scream about it. But I certainly hope I wouldn't defend her speaking out in this way.

Hugh said...


With respective, that's a ridiculous interpretation of the relevant law. Claiming that the commission should urge people vote for the status quo in a referendum as part of their duty to 'support the government of the day' is only marginally more credible than claiming than claiming that the commission should urge people to vote for the incumbent government in an election.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: I agree entirely. But the Commission hasn't urged people to vote for the law. They have merely said, when questioned, that they support it as it stands. given that that is the policy of the government of the day, they can hardly say anything else.

Hugh said...

Seems to me that the difference between 'I support the law as it stands' and 'People should vote for the law to remain as it stands' is a pretty fine one.

I guess the real issue for me is that political neutrality seems less to be a principle that people are committed to in and of itself and more of a club that they use to beat their ideological opponents with. Not that I am firmly committed to neutrality myself.

I just find myself rather sceptical when people who, by their deeds and occassional words, are very uncertain about the principle of neutrality themselves, put aside their discomfort when it appears neutrality coincides with their short-term political objectives.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: I agree its a fine line, and muddled even more by the Families Commission's explicit research and advocacy role. But in the face of questions asking whether the Commission had changed its position with Rankin's appointment (which is where the statement in question came from), what would you have them say? They could hardly have said nothing...

(And if you check my Public Sector tag, you'll find that I've been a consistent defender of public sector neutrality no matter who is interfering with it).

Anna said...

This is a curly one. Public service neutrality is to some extent a matter of judgement, and the context plus how senior you are definitely make a difference.

At the same time, I'd hope a Family (or other) Commissioner would made a stand on conscience is s/he felt it was needed. Laurie O'Reilly drew attention to policies causing child poverty as a Children's Commissioner, and it's hard to be critical of that.

However, I'm not convinced that Rankin is making a stand on conscience. I don't know of any evidence that supports her pro-smacking stance, and I don't think 'personal preference' is an acceptable basis for a high profile public sector employee to publicly oppose govt policy. Plus she looks suspiciously like someone who likes being controversial to stay in the public eye.

Idiot/Savant said...

Anna: the Families Commission has an advocacy role - but its for the agency, not its individual members. As a commissioner, Rankin is bound by the SI&C, and has a duty not to bring her personal political views into her work. The fact that the government seemingly appointed her to do just that doesn't change that in the slightest.