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 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.