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David Miller: A Point of View On Christine Rankin

David Miller Online

The Christine Rankin Issue: A Point of View

The battle in the Employment Court over whether Christine Rankin should be awarded the $818,000 she seeks in damages is about her performance or non-performance as a CEO of a government department. It is about the issue of whether she was competent in her job and whether the forces of politics played a role in her losing her position, however this case will be remembered for two things: fashion and one very important reminder. The fashion element is the earrings, short skirts and the low necklines, and the reminder is that if you are a male occupying a senior position in government, and confronted with such attributes on an embattled head of a government department with a history of extravagant spending, monumental administrative disasters and an approval rating plummeting by the minute, do not allow yourself to be seen as a misogynist, chauvinistic bastard.

Christine Rankin’s time at the head of WINZ was dogged by controversy. There were the allegations of extravagant spending sprees, the debacle over student loans and allowances, the manner in which Ms Rankin ran the department and her personal style, all of which counted against her. As a student, I have dealings with WINZ and I must point out that never once have I had anything but efficient and friendly service and many others are in a similar position to myself. Unfortunately for WINZ and Ms Rankin, cases such as ours do not make for news worthy stories and therefore it is the cases that did not run smoothly that received the airtime and made the most impression. I recall sitting beside a rather agitated young lad who was about to commence his first year of study at Canterbury University while we waited for our applications to be processed at the local WINZ offices in Christchurch. All I had to do was hand my form over the desk, but it seemed this young chap also needed to tell the lady working there that he had not recently been in prison, was not as old as the letter stated and had no idea where on earth the two kids came from.

Even so, such issues have been buried under an avalanche of debate and opinion as to what clothes and accessories Ms Rankin wears. The problem was that this was not confined to the pages of a tabloid style magazine or newspaper occasionally, but it found its way into the testimony of Mr Prebble, Mr Maharey and others and overshadowed everything else. Even as members of the government try and argue their case that Ms Rankin was not suitable for the CEO position, the arguments have soon become embroiled in whether that person thought she was dressed suitably and to their liking. Suddenly people involved in fashion were coming out of the woodwork giving their opinion on whether this particular look is good or bad or otherwise and some even offered ways in which someone can adopt the ‘Rankin Look’ on a low budget, which given Ms Rankin’s former job has a certain irony to it. What is most alarming in all this it is that some female politicians and those in other high-ranking positions are adopting the ‘Rankin Look’ to demonstrate solidarity with Christine and women folk everywhere. Admirable sentiments, but even if one agrees with the point they are trying to make, the fashion police of either gender could not possibly agree with this.

If the members of the government had wanted to get rid of Ms Rankin that badly, they could have done so easily, professionally and without incurring all the bad press that has followed. With the recent history of golden handshakes for public sector management, under performing departments and the adverse press for WINZ, Ms Rankin failure to get reappointed to her position would have become old news very quickly. Instead, through their inability not to pass comment when they should have kept quiet and not to get carried away when a female sat down in front of them wearing a short skirt, my fellow males damaged their own arguments and case from the start and immediately placed themselves on the back foot. They turned the argument from one concerning job performance into a personal battle of taste and style and the results have been plain to see.

Despite this blundering by certain members of the male species, we should not get this issue blown out of perspective. This case must be argued on the merits of whether Ms Rankin did a good job or not and nothing else and not turn the whole thing into another skirmish in the battle of the sexes. Ms Rankin is merely someone who had a particular style of dress that did not fit well with those she was working alongside and they should have known better than to express their opinions in the manner they did. Nor is Ms Rankin the ‘sexual icon’ as has been suggested. To suggest that her dress sense is the reason she is now out of a job is ludicrous no matter which side of the issue you are on and I see little point in using this case to further a feminist or political agenda. At the end of the day who really cares how long her skirts where or the earrings, as the case on the table is whether her failure to get re-appointed to her job was justified or not.

Hence we can only take caution from this tale. The lesson to all is that everyone has a personal style of dress and taste in clothes and this may not be to your liking. Even so, you should not let it get in the way of being professional and let this be a reminder to you when you hire someone to work under you. I mean alongside you.

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