Christine Rankin has opened up about her terrifying ordeal as the chief executive of WINZ, revealing for the first time she had her own police protection squad.
"They believed that my life really was in danger," she told The AM Show on Thursday.
She claims the "ruthless" 1999 Labour-led government helped make her "public enemy number one", emotionally opening up on the show about the toll it took on her life.
"I got bullets with my name on them. I got endless threats of death.
"I had a button under my desk that I could press, as the receptionist did, who had to press it one day as someone had come to kill me."
Under her leadership, WINZ spent of millions on commercials and rebranding, and $165,000 on a chartered plane for staff, which was slammed as excessive by critics.
Ms Rankin says the rebrand was under budget and the plane was a result of being misled by a junior staff member.
But her decision not to front the media, one she says she now regrets, was the tipping point.
"It was a terrible time and [the police] used to tell me what I had to watch for. I would be taken into the stairwell if they thought someone was coming with their gun, and which did happen once. It was very, very frightening.
Ms Rankin told Duncan Garner she never told anyone about the police protection squad at the time because "more people think about what they're going to do to you".
"It was hell for my family. It went on every day for two years. I led the news day after day after day in the most negative ways.
"Even now the media will put a photo of me in the paper and I'm always scowling. Because they want everyone to believe I'm a bitch."
Garner, who worked as a political reporter at the time, stopped her there to apologise for his part in the situation.
"I was one of those journalists that chased you around the building and everything," he said.
"I feel partly responsible in many ways."
But Ms Rankin says Garner was one of the good ones.
"You were never cruel to me. A lot of them were just disgusting. I had effigies of me burned in the streets for goodness sake.
"How many other New Zealanders has that happened to? I think it was a disgraceful time in our history.
"That Labour government were ruthless in what they did to me."
Her police protection squad trained her to look in her rear vision mirror to make sure she wasn't being followed, and open her back car doors to make sure no one was inside.
Later in the show Garner reflected back on her story, calling her "incredibly brave".
"I was reporting some of these issues back in the parliamentary press gallery when she was head of WINZ.
"I was one of the journalists working with TVNZ at the time and we did target her."
Garner says he did an extended interview with Ms Rankin where she made allegations against the Labour government's personal treatment of her.
"And the bosses said to me at the time, no that's not going in the story.
"I fought it for a little bit… didn't get it in the story.
"I wish I'd fought harder for that. It should've been in the story, her allegations about the targeting of her by the government."
Ms Rankin now works as a consultant.