Is Rankin's new job part of sabotage plot?

BY MICHAEL CUMMINGS - DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 13:00 13/05/2009

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OPINION: In politics, controversy will find you sooner or later it doesn't need to be courted.

That's why the National Government's decision to appoint former Work and Income boss Christine Rankin to the Families Commission is so bizarre.

Ms Rankin, who famously forked out more than a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars on an extravagant retreat for her staff, could not have been a more controversial choice.

What, was Jake the Muss unavailable?

The selection of Ms Rankin raises serious questions about the commission's long-term future, and whether National has appointed her as a deliberate ploy to undermine an organisation it would happily do away with if it could.

The Families Commission was established as a Crown agency as part of a support deal between United Future and Labour following the 2002 election.

National slammed the commission while in opposition, but agreed to retain it after it came to power as part of its support agreement with United Future.

United Future leader Peter Dunne is furious Ms Rankin has been appointed as a commissioner to the agency that was his baby.

"Ms Rankin is simply the wrong person to be appointed to a body of this type," he said.

"She is divisive and controversial and her appointment will be disruptive to the ongoing work of the commission."

As head of For The Sake Of Our Children Trust, Ms Rankin was a prominent critic of Green MP Sue Bradford's anti-smacking legislation a bill the Families Commission supported.

With Labour enthusiastically joining Mr Dunne and Ms Bradford in condemning the appointment, and reports Cabinet was itself divided over selecting Ms Rankin, one must seriously question why Prime Minister John Key would take a political risk he didn't need to take.

All National seems to have achieved is draw intense negative attention to the Families Commission and perhaps that was the point.

It's nothing more than a conspiracy theory at this point, but if National hoped to abolish the commission in the medium to long-term, Ms Rankin could certainly prove to be an effective seed of disharmony and dysfunction.

Of course, National might have simply hoped such a controversial appointment would spark public debate about the commission's relevance.

If calls for it to be scrapped grow loud enough, the Government could claim to have a mandate to abolish it.

In appointing Ms Rankin, National was either being very sneaky or, much more likely, very stupid.

Either way, the decision is not good news for the Family Commission.

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