Monday, June 22, 2009

Rankin, the referendum, and state sector neutrality

NZPA reported earlier this evening that Families Commissioner Christine Rankin was planning to front the "vote no" campaign in the upcoming referendum on the Child Disciple Act. This is now being reported as a dreadful mistake on the part of the organisers, with Rankin reassuring the Minister that she will not be appearing. Why did she have to? Because openly taking such a position would be a gross violation of the State Services Commission's Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Sector.

Back in Rankin's day, when she ran WINZ as her own personal fiefdom (complete with its own Cult of Personality), the Public Service Code of Conduct applied only to public servants - those working for government departments. But following a review this was replaced in 2007 by the new Standards of Integrity and Conduct, which applied to the state sector as a whole - including Crown Entities such as the Families Commission (but not, I should add, CRIs, SOEs, or school boards of trustees). As with the old PSCC, the SI&C requires state servants to be politically neutral - or, as they put it, 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
  • support our organisation to provide robust and unbiased advice
  • respect the authority of the government of the day.
And as with the old PSCC, the requirement to be seen to be neutral, impartial and unbiased gets stronger the higher up the food chain you are. And as a Families Commissioner - essentially a board member of a Crown Entity - Rankin is at the very top of that food chain.

Publicly campaigning on a highly politically contentious referendum would be ruled out for any senior state servant. It should be absolutely unthinkable for someone like Rankin. The fact that she let this happen (and she did - NZPA would not have gone to press without confirming the accuracy of McCroskie's statement) displays extremely poor judgement and an utter lack of professionalism.

(The same applies BTW to her continued membership of the Family and Child Trust. She's a senior state servant, FFS! She should not be publicly (some would even say privately) involved with a political organisation, particularly one which advocates in the area of policy she is involved in. If she wants to do that, then she can't be a Families Commissioner. It really is that simple).

Correction: As a borad member, Rankin is not bound by the SI&C. See the correction here.