Rankin defiant over new job as family advocate

By Claire Trevett, Simon Collins

Christine Rankin says she has learned from her three failed marriages and will use her new role as a Families Commissioner to promote the value of "Mum, Dad and the kids".

Ms Rankin, 55, fought a legal battle against the former Labour Government when she was not reappointed as head of Work and Income NZ nine years ago after staging a conference costing $235,000.

Now she is back in a key role, effectively charged by the new National Government with changing the direction of the $8 million-a-year Families Commission, which was a prime advocate of the 2007 "anti-smacking" law.

Ms Rankin's For the Sake of Our Children Trust helped organise a petition which forced a citizen-initiated referendum on the issue to be held this August.

She married her fourth husband, Kim MacIntyre, this year.

Ms Rankin - who faced criticism yesterday that the decision to appoint her will "sabotage" the commission - said the attacks were "ridiculous".

"They are talking about me being married four times and how can I possibly be a Families Commissioner?

"I think that is absolutely ridiculous. I have learned a great deal about children and families."

The decision to appoint Ms Rankin drew sharp retorts from Labour and the Greens yesterday- as well as two of National's own support partners.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said the decision was "a terrible mistake". Mr Dunne instigated the Families Commission in 2002 as part of his agreement with the former Labour Government.

He said Ms Rankin's appointment was "untenable" and she should stand down or the commission could be sabotaged.

Despite being on the Cabinet committee that approved the appointment, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia yesterday was "surprised" Ms Rankin was chosen, given her opposition to the anti-smacking bill.

Prime Minister John Key and Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett both tried to defend the choice yesterday, but faced rumours the decision had caused a rift in Cabinet.

Mr Key refused to comment on that, but publicly supported Ms Rankin, saying she was passionate about preventing child abuse. Ms Bennett said Ms Rankin had a "strong history" in advocating for families but emphasised Ms Rankin was only one of seven commissioners.

"She's a strong advocate for children and families in their different make-up, and I think she'll play a great role."

The Green Party's Sue Bradford, who introduced the anti-smacking law, also criticised the decision, saying it would sabotage the commission.

Labour leader Phil Goff said he was astounded at the choice. He said her opposition to the anti-smacking law was contrary to the formal position of the National Party and she was closely involved with conservative groups such as Families First.

"She's attacked groups like Barnardos and others that she'll now be required to work with."

Ms Rankin had also called Helen Clark "childless" in the midst of a rally against the anti-smacking bill and Mr Goff said anybody who could use such "personal abuse" was not appropriate for such a position.

Ms Rankin yesterday dismissed the criticism.

"All this bullying is not going to make any difference to me. They've been doing it to me for ages."

Chief Families Commissioner Jan Pryor issued a statement later, reasserting the "unanimous decision" of the commission's seven members to support the new law.

- NZ Herald

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