‘Walking backwards into the future’ – Speech to NZNO Canterbury/West Coast Regional Convention

(Photo credit: Jacqui Bennetts. Can be removed, on request).

Ka tangi te tītī

Ka tangi te kākā

Ka tangi hoki au

Tīhei mauri ora!

Kei te tū ahau ki te tautoko i ngā mihi ki te Kaihanga. Koia rā te timatanga me te whakamutunga o ngā mea katoa.

Kei te mihi anō ki Te Poho o Tamatea, ki a Ōtākaro me Opawaho.

Ki ngā mate, haere, haere, haere. Rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou. Tātou te hunga ora e huihui mai nei, tēnā koutou.

E te tiamana, ko Cheryl, me te mangai-ā-rohe o Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa NZNO, ko Ruth, tēnā kōrua. Ngā whakawhetai ki a kōrua mō tā kōrua pōwhiri.

Ko wai ahau?

Ko Kapukataumahaka te maunga

Ko Ōwheo te awa

Ko Cornwall te waka

Nō Ōtepoti ahau

Ko Don rāua ko Helen ōku mātua

He tangata tiriti ahau

Ko Grant Brookes tōku ingoa.

Kia whakamārama ake tātou i ngā tikanga ngaio me ngā ahumahi o te nēhi, tēnei te kaupapa o te hui. Kei te hoki mahara ki te whakataukī, “Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei”.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

As the muttonbird calls, as the kaka calls, so will I speak.

I stand to support the acknowledgements to the Creator, the beginning and end of all things. I also greet the Port Hills, the River Avon and Heathcote, and those who have passed on.

Let the dead bury their dead. To the living who are meeting here, greetings. I greet the Regional Council Chair, Cheryl, and the Rūnanga rep, Ruth. Thanks to you for your invitation.

Who am I?

My name is Grant Brookes, son of Don and Helen, descended from those arriving on the ship, Cornwall.

I am Pākehā, from Dunedin where the mountain is Mt Cargill and the river is the Water of Leith.

Increasing the understanding of the professional and industrial nursing issues is the purpose of this convention. So the saying returns to memory to express this: “For all, and for the children who will follow”. In sharing this whakataukī, I acknowledge the mana whenua of Ngāi Tahu, to whom it belongs.

So greetings, greetings, greetings to you all.


I was originally asked along today to spend ten minutes reflecting on my past year. I can imagine a talk on that topic which is pretty uninteresting. Readings from my diary, perhaps, with a slideshow of my holiday snaps?

But it’s sometimes said of the Māori conception of time, that it’s about “walking backwards into the future”. “Ka mura, ka muri”, they say. The past remains present as we go forward. The people and events which have gone before always guide us.

So in that spirit, I will talk a little about my past year – our past year – to show how the past guides me as I lead this organisation into the future. I hope that this is more interesting than my personal reminiscences of times gone by.

For me, it’s definitely been a year of firsts. First time as NZNO President, obviously. I’m now nearly seven months into that.  I think that some of the things which I’ve been part of over the past year, along with you, are influencing NZNO today.

Twelve months ago this week, I was meeting in Wellington with DHB representatives, as part of the NZNO MECA negotiating team. It was also my first time in bargaining for a collective employment agreement. That day, we received the employers’ first offer, and we decided to not recommend it.

Some of you may recall how 82 percent of members voted to reject that offer, and to step up the collective action which eventually delivered an improved offer with real pay rises, above inflation, and other improvements to allow quality care.

I also voted no to the first offer. Then the Capital & Coast delegates got around the wards at Wellington Hospital. We got members to sign the joint letter to our Chief Executive, and encouraged them to take part in the Go Purple Day. These past events live on, for me.

It is a truism of the union movement that if you want to make change, then voting once every three years is not enough on its own. This is the case inside NZNO, just as it is on the national and local political stage.

We showed last year that when NZNO members act collectively, we can make change.

That’s why my first message as newly elected President, on August 7 last year, said that “As your next NZNO President, I will support members whenever you join together for health.”

And while pay in the DHBs has been settled for now, there are many other issues where we still need to join together and make change.

Also twelve months ago this week, I had just returned from my first NZNO Regional Convention outside of Wellington. It was the one in Dunedin, organised by Southern Regional Council. I went on to attend three more.

In a democratic member-run organisation like NZNO, leaders have a responsibility to lead, but ultimately our direction is set by the membership through the representative structures, including Regional Councils. I carry my memories of last year’s Regional Conventions. These remind me of my commitment to strengthen the member voice in NZNO.

I know that actively participating in Regional Councils and other membership structures means voluntary work, on top of your long hours in paid employment or study – and often after caring for family members as well. But I hope that as members are heard and supported, and as you see your views reflected in our direction, that more and more are encouraged to write that submission, or attend that meeting.

In a couple of weeks’ time, on April 21, it’s the anniversary of the 2015 Canterbury Regional Convention. That’s also the day I launched my blog, at www.nznogrant.org. In my first post, I pledged to “make your issues visible… to get nursing onto the agenda for decision-makers, and for the public they’re accountable to.”

This past pledge will remain, because members are still telling me that this is what they want from their leaders. And I believe this pou, this stake planted in the ground last year, is one of the things which is starting to influence NZNO already.

Whether it’s speaking about the impact of DHB funding cuts on nurses and patients on ONE News, or representing the state of mental health services here in Christchurch in The Press, or on the radio, the role of NZNO President is evolving into more of a public spokesperson role – and this has not escaped the attention of decision-makers at the Ministry of Health.

In June, the eyes of the world were focused on Washington, as President Obama wrestled with US law-makers to get “fast track” authority to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). I wrote at the time that “we need leaders who will strengthen our stand for nurse power against the TPPA”. Some of my first duties as President included speaking to local government and public meetings in Wellington about the health impacts of the TPPA. This past stays with me, too, and as President I will continue to stand on your behalf against investment regimes and corporate influences which undermine public health.

Also in June, I made my first visit to Canterbury DHB. I went to Hillmorton, Christchurch Hospital and Burwood, and met some of you then. Later I visited The Oaks residential aged care facility. And yesterday I met more of you, at Hillmorton and Christchurch Hospital again, and also at Christchurch Women’s. I did this because of a pledge, made in April, to be accessible to members. “I will be available to you”, I said, “in person in your locality or via email and social media”. This commitment to you will also remain, and guide my leadership of NZNO.

In August, in another milestone, I worked with NZNO Media Advisor Liz Robinson on my first media release as NZNO President. “Nurses elect new President”, it said, and went on to talk about how I would “work with joint NZNO leader, Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, and with newly-elected Vice-President Rosemary Minto in the organisation’s bicultural co-leadership model”.

“I am… excited about working within a bicultural model”, I said. “I see the ambitions of health workers, our desire for a healthy New Zealand and our understanding of the social determinants of health relating closely to our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

NZNO has been on a journey towards biculturalism ever since it was formed in 1993. We are enormously fortunate to have established a relationship between NZNO and Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa, along with a co-leadership model, with the President and Kaiwhakahaere who work alongside each other.

But, as we were reminded at last year’s AGM and conference by guest speaker Dr Heather Came, we’re still not completely there yet. In my short time as President, we have already seen changes to the 2016-17 NZNO Annual Plan, to better reflect the bicultural relationship underpinning our organisation. This year will also see the launch of cultural competencies which will make NZNO more responsive to Māori members and Māori health needs. As part of practising co-leadership, I want to support Te Poari in achieving more of their goals.

There are two final areas, however, where our shared history over the last twelve months weighs down upon our future. These represent things which must be overcome, and put right.

Firstly, as that media release in August said, “nurses are working in a difficult and constrained environment. The impact of years of underfunding is now being felt in the health sector.”

Government spending on health has failed to keep up with increasing costs and population pressures for each of the last six years. Health spending as a proportion of GDP has fallen since 2010. This is why we are all being pushed to be more “flexible”, and to do more with less. My proposal to make health funding a key campaign priority for NZNO in 2016-17 has been accepted, so there is hope that we can act collectively and turn around this trend.

Finally, that first media release from last year also said that I “look forward to building NZNO’s dual identity as a professional association and registered union.”

Those of you in the DHB Sector might recall the PowerPoint slides shown near the end of the MECA ratification meeting last August. These gave some of the context for the negotiating team’s decision to recommend the employers’ offer. In an unusual step, they mentioned the turnout of the ratification meetings in May, which voted overwhelmingly to reject the first offer. Some members had felt that given the strong vote on the first offer in May, the negotiating team should have recommended rejection of the second offer and planned for industrial action. But while is was a vote of 82% against in May, that was 82% of the two-fifths of members who attended a ratification meeting. So even if a vote for industrial action was desirable at that time, there were doubts about whether there was sufficient support among members to make successful action possible at that time.

And yet the DHB Sector is where our membership is highest. It’s where our delegate networks are strongest. If there were question marks over our ability there, it shows a need to strengthen union values across all sectors, and at all levels of our organisation.

Building NZNO’s dual identity means developing confident workplace leaders and delegates who are well-trained and well-supported.

I believe that in the broadest sense, the goal we are pursuing as NZNO members is the wellbeing of people. And we are people too, just like our patients, whānau and communities. Viewed from this perspective, our industrial and professional (and political) strategies become mutually reinforcing approaches, instead of being pitted against each other.

It can be hard to uphold these truths sometimes, I know. Our allies and external stakeholders tend to pull us in one direction or the other. Some of our union allies, for example, are suspicious of “professionals”. And some health sector leaders don’t trust unions.

But we shouldn’t let external forces define us. We should stand on our own whole reality, and reject attempts to divide it. By proudly embracing our dual identity as a professional association and registered union, NZNO members can achieve our common goal together.

So that’s a few reflections on my past year, on our past year, and how this lives on in NZNO today.

I look forward to meeting and talking with you, over the course of the day. Thank you.

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