‘Making a mockery of democracy and partnership’ – An unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki

Erin Kennedy is an NZNO leader in Wellington. Since 2006 she has represented members in the workplace, in the media and in the Council of Trade Unions. In her roles as Lead Delegate, Convenor and Co-convenor at my DHB, I worked closely with Erin for over a decade.

Last month, Erin submitted a letter to the editors of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand. Although the July 2020 issue of Kai Tiaki carries an interview with Erin on the same topic, they declined to print her letter in full. I therefore publish Erin’s letter here.


Thanks to the honest reporting in these pages in recent months, most Kai Tiaki readers are aware of the serious problems affecting the NZNO board of directors.

There is less awareness about the breakdown in representative democracy and bicultural partnerships taking place elsewhere in the union.  As demonstrated by developments in the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), however, these are just as serious.  

GWRC represents approximately 5000 members living or working in the greater Wellington region.  These are the people who are entitled to attend regional council meetings, although under our constitution only elected regional councillors are entitled to vote.  Many of these 5000 members are probably unaware of who their councillors are, or even that the regional council exists. But GWRC makes important decisions on their behalf, including submitting remits for the one member one vote process and approving candidates wishing to stand for the board of directors.

I have been attending GWRC meetings for several years. The last meeting, on June 10, was unlike any I have experienced before. The council chairperson was not present. Nor was the vice-chair who sent apologies. The only member of the regional council’s five-member management committee who attended was the representative of Te Runanga.

At the start of the meeting, another member of Te Runanga, from outside the region (and therefore not entitled to vote) announced that NZNO chief executive Memo Musa had asked her to be present.  

In our member-driven organisation, the role of NZNO staff and management is to operationalise the strategies and policies set by leaders elected by members. It is not their role to intervene in governance structures such as regional councils.  This point was made at the meeting, but ignored. 

In the absence of the chairperson and vice-chair, the Runanga member from outside the region said that she would oversee an election of a temporary chair for the meeting. A second member of Te Runanga, whose name has never appeared on the list of elected regional councillors either was nominated as chair.  So was a long-serving GWRC member.

A vote was held. It was farcical. Members of Te Runanga who are not regional councillors were allowed to vote by the Runanga member who was also not a regional councillor.

As a result, and despite protests, a Runanga member who was not a regional councillor was elected to run the meeting our Greater Wellington Regional Council.

There appears to be little point in making a complaint about this to the NZNO chief executive, who, after all, instigated the whole process. And so our only recourse is here in the letters page of Kai Tiaki, to inform our fellow members that the current leadership of NZNO are making a mockery of democracy and partnership in our organisation.

For me, this was the last straw. After more than 30 years as a union delegate, 14 of those with NZNO, I have resigned my roles as workplace delegate and regional councillor. All I can say now is that fixing NZNO is going to take a radical overhaul of our governance structures and leadership.

Erin Kennedy, RN

6 thoughts on “‘Making a mockery of democracy and partnership’ – An unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki

    1. Kia ora Mike, as mentioned in the post it was not accepted for publication in Kai Tiaki, although the July issue carries an interview on the same topic. Feel free to share it as widely as you wish from here. In the short lifespan of this blog so far, posts have attracted a couple thousand views, on average.

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      1. TBH though I’m not sure how much bigger than that the potential readership would be, given the number of NZNO members actively involved in governance through voting in elections etc.

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  1. I think this letter is far-fetched don’t you think?

    I was on this Regional Council meeting, dated 10th June 2020. I have previously sat on this council during my student years (2016-2018) as a Te Runanga representative as well as the Whitireia National Student Representative (2018). I am now a Registered Nurse and have recently been endorsed, alongside all other regional Te Runanga members that are referred to within this letter, to represent Te Runanga on the Regional Council. I refer to SCHEDULE SEVEN: NZNO STRUCTURES 1.3.5 within the Constitution:

    “Te Runanga within each NZNO Region shall be entitled to be represented at Regional Council. Such representation shall be decided by Te Runanga”.

    This applies ! Grant, I recall you having a problem with this and you continuously attempted to refer to the Regional Council handbook, which is used as a resource but does not take precedent over the Constitution.

    Erin, you have stated in your letter that that chairperson was not present. Nor was the vice-chair who sent her apologies. You forget to mention that the chairperson also sent her apologies through the Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui – Greater Wellington Region chairperson. You continuously refer to another “Te Runanga member from outside the region” as being present and would oversee an election of a temporary chair for the meeting. I recall this member you refer to, being present on the zoom meeting to support the chairperson (given the problems affecting NZNO) and ensured that constitutional processes were adhered too. I now refer to SCHEDULE SEVEN: NZNO structures 1.7.1:

    “All meetings of the Region, the Regional Council and the Management Committee shall be chaired by the Chairperson, or in absence of that person, a Vice-Chairperson. If neither the Chairperson nor the Vice-Chairperson is present, the meeting shall choose a Chairperson”.

    What you are implying is that you preferred a known Regional Council member to have chaired the meeting? Was the chair of this meeting not a Regional Council member given that she was endorsed by regional Te Runanga members in previous hui, to represent Te Runanga on the Regional Council.

    You’re continuous discrimination towards “Te Runanga” members is clear in your letter. It does not reflect the aspiring bi-cultural relationship within the organisation and to me, looks like a continuous attack towards Māori – fuelling the fire that continues to divide the organisation. I am disappointed that a senior delegate and Registered Nurse is demonstrating such behaviour in what it seems like, an attempt to rid Māori voices.

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    1. This comment demomstrates a lack of basic understanding about governance. The same lack of understanding led the author to compose this gobbledygook petition (which the NZNO CEO described politely, in the latest Kai Tiaki, as “not sufficiently defined”): https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/notice-to-chief-executive-of-nzno-for-a-special-general-meeting.html

      It is part of a wider problem in NZNO, where inexperienced directors and their hangers-on are convincing themselves that the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them.

      Correcting this lack of basic understanding, I will keep it short.

      What is a constitution? A constitution establishes the basis for, and the checks and balances upon, authority and decision-making within an organisation or country. How this authority is exercised is then fleshed out by policies, approved by the appropriate authority.

      At the Parliamentary level, it’s like the relationship between enabling legislation, and regulations issued under it. To say, as this comment does, that the Regional Council Handbook “does not take precedence over the Constitution”, (and therefore can be ignored), is like saying that we don’t have to complete 60 PD hours, 450 practice hours and meet the NCNZ competencies to get our APC, because this isn’t stated in the HPCA Act 2003.

      Within NZNO, the Constitution says: “Rūnanga within each NZNO Region shall be entitled to be represented at Regional Council. Such representation shall be decided by Te Rūnanga”.

      The Regional Council Handbook (issued by the Board of Directors) then adds: “Such representation is to be decided by Te Rūnanga and names given to the Regional Administrator in February following elections.” (p.13)

      Click to access 2020-02-25%20NZNO%20Regional%20Council%20Handbook.pdf

      The purpose of this rule, added only last year, was firstly to stop the growing problem of Te Rūnanga stacking critical meetings by roping in people for one-off votes. But it was also necessary to ensure that Regional Council meetings had a quorum (10 percent of RC members). If the number and names of TR representatives kept changing from meeting to meeting, as was increasingly the case, then we could never be sure that the 10 percent threshold had been met.

      So if a person is not listed among the “names given to the Regional Administrator in February”, then they are not a Regional Councillor.

      Erin’s letter contains her own opinions. But as someone who also attended the GWR Council meeting on 10 June, I can attest that the facts are 100% accurate.

      There were people at the meeting who were not entitled to be there. Votes were cast by people without voting rights. And the person who chaired the meeting was not authorised to do so.

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