In my first speech to the membership as your newly-elected President, at the NZNO AGM all the way back in 2015, I outlined three key priorities which would guide my leadership of our organisation:
- heeding the voice of the membership,
- tackling health inequities through an unrelenting focus on their social determinants, and
- strengthening NZNO’s bicultural partnership.
Over the four and a half years that followed – the longest continuous term in office for any NZNO President – together we as members have achieved many things. In particular, we’ve gotten a lot louder in raising the voice of the membership. NZNO today is a much more membership-driven organisation, because of us.
The changes began in earnest when we stood together on the picket lines in 2018. They came to a head in 2019, when the previous Board launched a last-ditch attempt to prevent change and remove me from office.
Collectively you organised and together we overcame the resistance to member-led change. The Board failed to stem the tide of change at their Special General Meeting in September. But their actions did take a heavy toll on our organisation.
During 2018 and 2019, the Board ran up a quarter of a million dollars in legal bills, failed members over the DHB MECA, triggered the loss of key staff, presided over the first annual fall in membership in half a century and opened up deep divisions in the organisation. As the co-editors of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand said last October:
“In our combined 50-plus years of reporting and observing the activities of NZNO and the wider profession, we have witnessed some turbulent times. But never before have we witnessed the division now, sadly, so evident within the organisation.”
Pointedly, they added this:
“Sadly, the results of the SGM seem to have been framed, by some, as a “Mâori vs Pâkehâ“ contest. And is this, perhaps, another source of disconnection? Or, perhaps, has the race card been played as a distraction? Are different parts of the organisation operating under differing understandings of what partnership means in a membership-driven organisation?”
When a new Board was elected in September 2019, I had high hopes that the times of division could come to an end.
But as 2020 got under way, those hopes were starting to fade. In the February 2020 issue of Kai Tiaki, I was moved to write:
“There’s no easy way to say this – unity in NZNO has lately been in short supply.
“To advance the health and wellbeing of our professions, we must heal our internal divisions. Each of us – especially those in positions of leadership – must take our share of responsibility for the years of division, and commit to rebuilding NZNO unity and power. The way to do so, I think, has already been written.
“Whatever people’s personal or political understandings”, said the co-editors, “the constitution offers a clear definition of partnership: Partnership is defined as including an acknowledgement by NZNO, based upon the te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, of the ideals of reciprocity and of mutual benefit, including an obligation to act reasonably, honourably, and in good faith. In so recognising, NZNO further acknowledges the need for, and emphasis on, recognition, respect, accountability, compromise, and a balancing of interests.
“With ideas of reciprocity, respect, recognition and mutual benefit, this partnership concept is about working collectively to advance the interest of all, not just your own immediate interests. Indeed, our definition of partnership is a well-written way of describing the fundamental union principle of looking out for everyone. In 2020, this must be our way of working.”
I wrote this unity plea because shadowy forces behind the failed bid to remove me from office were continuing to pursue their own immediate interests, above the interests of our organisation.
Sadly, my call to work collectively in the interests of all wasn’t heeded.
Two weeks ago, despite no new allegations being raised, I learnt that a lawyer would again be hired to advise on further actions which could be taken against me. The prospect of still more legal battles paid for by members, and still more division, didn’t seem to matter to them.
At the same time, it is has become very clear that different parts of the organisation are operating under differing understandings of what partnership means in a membership-driven organisation. And those differences are growing wider and wider.
Having put my heart and soul into strengthening NZNO’s bicultural partnership for four and a half years, I am devastated that I can now see no way of achieving the type of genuine partnership that our Constitution envisages and our membership deserve.
Over the last two weeks, I have considered how to respond. I thought of all the people who have supported me, and in particular the thousands of NZNO members and supporters who stood up for me against the previous Board. My family and I owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
But today, as we’re all struggling on the front lines as essential workers and at home in our bubbles, I could not ask for you to do that again. I couldn’t put my family through those battles again, either.
For these reasons, I have submitted my letter of resignation to the Board.
My letter proposed a joint communication announcing my departure, to avoid more public disunity – just as I did repeatedly before the Board’s SGM last year. But I couldn’t agree to the added condition of staying silent and hiding the truth from my fellow members for ever more.
From my perspective, the last four and a half years of my Presidency were never about me. They were about us.
By defending me from an unfair and unjust attack in 2019, you ensured that fairness and justice remained at the heart of NZNO. You showed how members can and will take back their union when it loses its way. That lesson was noticed by trade unionists around Aotearoa and beyond. And it will guide us, long into the future.
The struggle to take back our union will continue. As US Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said a fortnight ago, after suspending his campaign, “Real change never comes from the top on down, but always from the bottom up.
“I ran for the Presidency”, he said, “because I believed that as a President, I could accelerate and institutionalise the progressive changes that we are all building together. And if we keep organising and fighting, I have no doubt that that is exactly what will happen.”
As for me, my heart has always been with members at the coal face – the place where real nursing happens and where camaraderie and common purpose exist. I am happy and proud that at last, I can follow my heart and return.
Ngā mihi aroha