‘How we got to where we are’ – Speech to NZNO Canterbury/Waitaha & West Coast/Tai Poutini Regional Convention

Notes of a presentation to NZNO Canterbury/Waitaha & West Coast/Tai Poutini Regional Convention on 28 May, as part of a leadership session alongside NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and Chief Executive Memo Musa.

Photo courtesy of Jacqui Bennetts.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā rau rangatira mā, tēnā koutou. 

To the authorities, the voices and the many leaders, greetings. I acknowledge in particular the fellow members of the NZNO Leadership Team, Chief Executive Memo Musa and Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku. Thanks to Regional Council Chair, Cheryl Hanham, and Te Rūnanga rep Ruth Te Rangi for the invitation to be here today. To the staff and all the nursing leaders in the whare (which is everyone here), greetings to you. 

Who am I? Ko wai ahau?

Ko Kapukataumahaka te maunga, ko Ōwheo te awa, ko Cornwall te waka.

Ko Don rāua ko Helen ōku mātua, ko Tangata Tiriti tōku iwi, ko Grant Brookes tōku ingoa.

Kua maumahara ahau ki tēnei whakataukī i tēnei rā: “He ora te whakapiri, he mate te whakatakariri”. 

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

I hail from Dunedin. I grew up at the foot of Mt Cargill and by the Water of Leith. My ancestors arrived in Dunedin on board the ship Cornwall in 1849. The son of Don and Helen, my name is Grant Brookes.

As we gather today, I recalled the whakataukī: “He ora te whakapiri, he mate te whakatakariri”. “There is strength in unity, defeat in anger and division”. 

So greetings, one and all. 


It’s always good to be back here on the Mainland, on Te Waipounamu. I called this city home for a time, when I moved north from Dunedin and took my first job after leaving school. That was some time ago now, back in the mid-1980s, a while before I discovered my true passion in nursing.

But I cannot stand here today without acknowledging the tragedies which have befallen this beautiful place in the years since, and the resilience of its people. 51 lives, on 15 March. And you, “heartbroken but not broken”. 

This is the ninth and final NZNO Regional Convention for me this year. 

In the eight previous conventions, I’ve been asked to address a variety of topics – each under the general theme for this year: “Nurses A Voice to Lead – Health For All”. 

Today, I think the three of us have been given ten minutes each, with ten minutes at the end for questions. I’d like to use this short time to give some reflections on our past year, and what this means for NZNO going forward. 

From my perspective, one thing has overshadowed all else in the time since we last met. It’s not to downplay development across our incredibly broad sector, but if there’s one thing that dominated, for me it’s the bargaining in the DHB Sector, and its aftermath. 

When I last stood before you at this venue one year ago, our momentous #HealthNeedsNursing rallies had just wrapped up. 

Some of you will remember coming together that day in April in Hagley Park South, over the road from the hospital. Others, I’m sure, turned out on Mairehau Road, at Burwood Hospital, or at the corner of Lincoln and Annex Roads, outside Hillmorton. There were rallies too at Caroline Bay, by the Z station, and at the Ashburton Checkerboard.  

For my part, I remember leafleting morning commuters at Wellington Railway Station, and demonstrating with my fellow members outside Wellington Hospital in Newtown. 

Those rallies, it turned out, were just the beginning. 

The effects of nine years of underfunding, which we highlighted and rallied against during 2017, finally compelled us to take unprecedented industrial action. 

For just the second time, nurses in New Zealand’s public health system took nationwide industrial action, alongside midwives and health care assistants covered by the DHB MECA.

For me personally, the hours I spent picketing and marching with my fellow NZNO members on 12 July 2018 will stand as the proudest moments of my nursing career. 

The MECA bargaining sparked a campaign of extraordinary drive and determination, on the part of NZNO members and staff alike. Together, we achieved momentous things. 

At the beginning, as you’ll recall, most members were being offered three pay increases of 2%, over 33 months, and a lump sum of $350 (pro rata).

After the #HealthNeedsNursing rallies in April and the #HearOurVoices marches in May, the offer was almost twice as big. The lump sum was bumped up to $2,000. Pay rises ranged from 9.3% to 15.9% over 26 months. An extra $38 million was pledged by the Government to employ 500 more nurses and $10 million allocated for additional expert nursing staff to support implementation of CCDM. 

At the end of July, after two more votes to reject, health minister David Clark put his signature to a new Accord, strengthening commitments to make sure there are enough nurses and midwives in our public hospitals to guarantee safety for staff and patients. 

The journey was not easy. We didn’t win everything needed to rebuild our public health system. But every single one of these advances was powered by the unity and determination of thousands of NZNO members, who should be enormously proud of themselves. 

At the same time, however, there are some unresolved problems. As we faced difficult decisions in the MECA bargaining last year, differences emerged between members, and between members and their representatives. At times there were signs of strife, of the “anger and division” which our whakataukī warns about. 

From my vantage point, I’m sorry to say, it appears that these divisions haven’t all healed yet. 

As many of you will know, we are in the middle of an independent review of last year’s DHB MECA. This is being conducted by former CTU President Ross Wilson. He has sought the views from all sides of the debates. I expect that his final draft report, which is due in June, will bring together these different perspectives, showing the truth in each and our shared path ahead. 

At the same time, the DHB MECA campaign set the pattern for a renewal of NZNO as an organisation which is united, open and responsive to members. 

Members last year made the big decisions through democratic votes. We were able to vote online for the first time. This saw the greatest member participation in any decisions in NZNO’s history. 

Campaign and LPS planning took place through cooperation between NZNO staff and member leaders, from local workplace delegates to the nationally elected board. Actions were designed to maximise member participation.

It’s democracy and participation like this that has the power to forge unity, out of division. A democratic vote can resolve many individual differences into one collective union decision. As we continue the democratic process of overcoming differences, strength will grow; “he ora te whakapiri”. 

Looking ahead, I can see three major opportunities this year for members to participate in the democratic process and shape NZNO’s evolution. 

First up, 2019 is an election year for NZNO. In August, members will be able to vote for up to seven directors who will lead NZNO over the next three years. 

Secondly, under the new “one member, one vote” system, all members will have a say – for the first time – on remits. Remits are statements proposing changes to NZNO policy or to our Constitution, which outlines such things as the rights and responsibilities of members and who in NZNO has the power to do what. As we heard first thing this morning, voting on these proposed changes takes place in August, too. The results will be announced at the NZNO AGM in September. 

Thirdly, the NZNO Board is leading a review of our current five-year strategic plan, which expires next year. Consultation on a new NZNO Strategic Plan 2020-2025, which will set the organisation’s key priorities and actions for the next five years, happens in late 2019 and early 2020. Once members have given input, a final draft will be presented for delegates to vote on at next year’s NZNO AGM. 

It’s possible there will be other big democratic decisions this year, as well. The current issue of Kai Tiaki reports on a petition for a Special General Meeting of NZNO, to vote on a particular motion. If it’s signed by one percent of members, then an SGM will be held. 

While this is still uncertain, it is important for members to know that despite the bits and pieces you may have heard, from various sources, the current Leadership Team you see before you are willing and able to lead the organisation, in a spirit of partnership and cooperation. 

It’s also important to stress finally that healthy democracy is more than simply majority rule. 

Our professionalism reminds us to work respectfully with colleagues, who may be in the minority. It says so in our Code of Conduct from the Nursing Council. Our professionalism reminds a majority that others have a right to hold different opinions – and to remain collaborative towards them at all times. 

In conclusion, only once before in New Zealand – back in 1989 – have nurses taken nationwide industrial action. That mobilisation reshaped nursing and four years later, in 1993, led to the birth of NZNO. 

The winds of change blowing this last year will also be felt beyond the DHBs. 

The surge which has drawn unprecedented numbers members into action is bound to power the ongoing transformation of NZNO. 

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

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