Wellington, May 12 NZPA - The father of the Families Commission, United Future leader Peter Dunne, is outraged by the appointment of controversial figure Christine Rankin to the Crown agency and says she should turn it down.
"I think she is simply the wrong person to be appointed to a body like this, I think she's divisive, she's controversial and I just think her appointment will be disruptive to the commission's ongoing work."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced the appointment of former head of Winz (now Work and Income) Ms Rankin, and Bruce Pilbrow, chief executive of the advice service Parents Inc, saying they were strong advocates for children and families. There are seven commissioners.
Labour Leader Phil Goff has also criticised the appointment and Green MP Sue Bradford accused the Government of political sabotage of the commission.
The Families Commission was set up as a Crown agency to promote better understanding of families issues as part of a support deal between United Future and Labour following the 2002 election.
National was previously scathing of it but agreed to retain it as part of its post-election support agreement with United Future leader Peter Dunne.
Ms Rankin was not reappointed at Winz after an extravagant conference. She then lost a colourful legal challenge to her dismissal in 2001.
Since then she has maintained a high profile over her opposition to Ms Bradford's anti-smacking bill which removed the defence of reasonable force in child abuse cases.
As head of For The Sake Of Our Children Trust she went head to head with former Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro and child advocate groups.
Cabinet hotly debated her appointment.
Mr Dunne said that argument and the lack of support from other parties "just mean her appointment isn't tenable".
"The only credible thing she can do is decline the appointment because her presence there is going to seriously undermine the credibility of the Families Commission."
He raised his concerns with Prime Minister John Key and Ms Bennett over the "grossly unsuitable" appointment. He was concerned she may become the face of the commission.
Mr Dunne did not think it was intended as a sabotage attempt; "It may well be the consequence".
He said a bridge builder, not a wrecker, was needed.
"Her whole demeanour and style I think is inappropriate, her linkages to various extremely conservative groups is... Families Commissioners need to be impartial, not highly partisan."
Mr Goff said he was astounded and said Ms Rankin's personal friends prevailed in the Cabinet debate.
"She is obviously a very controversial and divisive figure," he told reporters.
"She's attacked groups like Barnado's and others that she will now be required to work with," Mr Goff said.
During the anti-smacking debate Ms Rankin referred to former Prime Minister Helen Clark as childless, which Mr Goff said was an unacceptable personal attack.
Ms Bradford said the Families Commission supported her bill.
"Ms Rankin's appointment seems like a deliberate move that will divide the commission. This amounts to a form of political sabotage," Ms Bradford said.
The law was working well and police were happy with it, she said.
Mr Goff said Ms Rankin aligned herself so exclusively with one side of the political spectrum, for example attending Destiny Church and Families First rallies, that it was hard to see how she could be representative.
Mr Key said despite her record he considered Ms Rankin a safe pair of hands whose priority would be families.
"I don't think she will actually agree with the National Party on certain issues, we've taken a different response for instance with smacking -- she has been a strong proponent the other way."
Ms Bennett said she had argued for the appointment.
"I think Christine has some pretty strong views on things, I think she will bring those views to the commission and as a consequence the decisions that come out of it will be fairly robust."
Lobby group Family First NZ welcomed the appointments. (SEEKING RANKIN COMMENT)
NZPA PAR mt il co kn