‘Questions for the NZNO Board and CEO’ – Unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki

As top public sector union leaders went in to bat for their members and for public services over the last fortnight, one group was conspicuously missing in action. With DHB nurses facing the prospect of a four year pay freeze and voting for historic strike action, where were the NZNO President, Kaiwhakahaere and Chief Executive?

NZNO member-leaders and DHB sector reps have spoken up for us brilliantly in the media. But from the three top positions – which collectively cost members around half a million dollars a year – there’s been silence. It wasn’t like that last time, under my watch.

NZNO President, Kaiwhakahaere and CEO front a press conference to announce that union members had voted to reject the DHB offer, 18 June 2018.

But asking hard questions like this, and seeking accountability for fee-paying members, may no longer be allowed in the letters page of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand

Founded in 1908, a year before NZNO, Kai Tiaki has enjoyed editorial independence for 113 years. Although under increasing strain in recent years, this freedom from control by vested interests and independence from political agendas of the day has enabled Kai Tiaki to remain the pre-eminent voice of nursing in Aotearoa New Zealand. The professional journalists employed at Kai Tiaki have set the editorial policies, including for example a “Letters to Editor Policy” which upholds freedom of expression and opposes censorship, so that the letters pages can remain an important forum for debate. “Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand is committed to publishing all letters it receives”, it says.

But no longer. On 14 May, the day that the DHB strike was announced, the acting CEO of NZNO sent an email. It wasn’t about supporting the strike. A decision on printing my letter to the May issue of Kai Tiaki, asking questions of the NZNO Board, had been taken out of the co-editors’ hands. I had been banned. The letters to policy and the CEO’s email are reproduced here side-by-side.

Two questions arise immediately. Why is the acting NZNO CEO interfering in editorial decisions at Kai Tiaki and undermining the operations of our prized journal? And does the NZNO Board approve of this censorship? 

It appears that an NZNO member can now be barred permanently from the letters page of our journal. My unpublished letter is posted below, so readers can judge for themselves whether there is any validity at all in Mairi Lucas’ justifications. 

The NZNO Board has approved a Strategic Plan which stresses that NZNO is a democratic, membership-driven organisation. But this is not how a democratic, membership-driven organisation operates. The Board should direct the acting CEO to respect Kai Tiaki’s editorial independence. Let the different sides of a story be told, and let those same old false and divisive allegations, which are now trotted out routinely in response to any criticism of the leadership, stand the test of scrutiny and debate.

As stated in my original letter below, NZNO members deserve a functional system of governance that meets their legitimate needs and expectations – at the very least including public support, when they’re going on strike. Heaven knows we pay enough for it. 

Letter to Kai Tiaki, 27 April 2021 

Questions for the NZNO board of directors continue to grow. 

The board’s chief executive (CE) employment committee hoped to appoint a new NZNO CE before Memo Musa’s last day, said board member Simon Auty in the February issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand (p7). There had been “a significant number” of applications, he added. 

Applications closed on 26 January. Musa finished on 26 February. It is now May. Why has no CE been appointed? 

What does it mean for NZNO democracy, now that the full-time leadership team consists of a single individual in a permanent role with two in acting positions who previously worked under her? (Eg. see here, and here)

How can the President fulfil her constitutional role as the representative of non-Māori members, in NZNO’s bicultural partnership, if she’s also part of Te Poari meetings of the Māori leadership? 

What has happened to the full independent review of the NZNO Constitution which members voted for last year? According to the Terms of Reference sent to all members in December, it’s supposed to be completed in time for the 2021 NZNO AGM, four months from now. Yet there’s no sign that it’s even started. 

In March, Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand reported that a “board review recommends some radical changes” (p4). Key recommendations of the review included a smaller board of nine, an appointed chair, two appointed directors to bridge skill gaps, a half-time president and kaiwhakahaere and a strategic wānanga “to clarify how the bicultural model enhanced NZNO’s purpose and vision”.

If the board won’t release the report to members, as they should, will they at least inform us of their response to the recommendations

And when will NZNO have a functional system of governance that meets the legitimate needs and expectations of the fee-paying members? 

Grant Brookes, RN

Published by grantbrookes

Kia ora! I’m Grant Brookes, a Nurse, Trade Unionist and NZNO past President now living in Pōneke Wellington, New Zealand with my partner and two children. Since graduating in 1996, I’ve practised nursing in five cities in three countries. I’ve belonged to four nursing unions – and been a rep in three of them. This is my personal blog. There’s more about me and my time as President at nznogrant.org.

5 thoughts on “‘Questions for the NZNO Board and CEO’ – Unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki

  1. So if in 2012 and 2015 there were structures set up for succession planning in the Kaiwhakahaere role, why is the same person in the role in 2021


  2. Simple question… what needs to be done to remove NZNO as our MECA negotiators in the future and have that role reassigned to another organization / UNION?
    it’s a very well to switch but I believe alot more people would if there was clarity around how / what it takes to switch our negotiators… thanks


    1. The great majority of NZNO members and staff are superb unionists. The solution is not for these people to leave, but for them to reclaim NZNO.


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