GUEST BLOG: Grant Brookes – My resignation as NZNO President


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?”

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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.

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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



  1. Just reading half/third of this it seems to parallel the problem of NZ politics generally and point heavily in the direction of UK Labour ‘mandarins’ actively trying to unseat Jeremy Corbyn who was the people’s new white knight, going to make a charge and a change, but had the charger removed from underneath him and was left up in the air, guaranteed to lead to a fall. I was talking to a midwife friend and she talked about an apparent aggressive stand for idealistic and uneconomic ie impractical services which pregnant mothers are now receiving the sad results of.

    Confusions, misunderstandings, chants of best practice and lists of trles to follow, which are not spelled out for effect in practice, with everyone having a different idea of how the problem will be tackled, just loud cries of how things should be, is undermining the ability to make improvements in every directiion and specialty.

  2. Solidarity Grant!
    After reading that I think that the membership must challenge the grounds for your constructive sacking by the board in the middle of a pandemic. This pandemic shows that decades of deliberate under-funding has left nurses fighting for their lives. The divisions are political and unity on the terms of a retrograde Board is not unity at all they are acquiescence in the status quo. And if that challenge fails then those who believe in the union being run by the members need to form a new union where that principle operates and is defended come what may.

  3. The reality is that nurses in NZ are very good quality. The public want to keep it that way.

    Unfortunately big business and dirty politics don’t and increasingly are using dirty means to disunite people and distract from a bigger picture, which is, the health system in NZ is being downgraded with a view to privatise and this starts with destroying the unions led by leaders who want better wages and conditions and keeping quality high.

    A Filipino nurse (who was lovely and a very good nurse) told me that she didn’t understand the strikes in NZ in 2019 because in the Phillipines they can have 1 nurse per 100 patients! Music to DHB’s ears!

    As a union president that managed to obtain nursing staff better wages and conditions, it is no wonder that you are being hounded out (sometimes using another vehicle to do so, by rousing a rabble over the trivial like a txt).

    Good luck!

    Wish NZ health system good luck because it is not a good sign of things to come when decent leaders are hounded out of industry through shadowy means.

    Not the only dirty politic either in health unions.

  4. Solidarity within unions and work forces are a fundamental premise.

    Without it we become a dissipated third world mess.

  5. Real leadership does not rely on titles or position.

    Sometimes entrenched bureaucracies can be a handbrake on effective leadership especially when faced with an unprecedented crisis.

    Sometimes breaking free from these ties allows freedom of action as your conscience dictates

    Congratulations on your return to the front line of health workers gearing up to fight off the looming health threat from the covid-19 virus. A pathogen that has overrun better equipped and prepared health services than our own.

    I am confident that in this fight, you will continue to play a leading role in the best interests of your fellow health workers and especially nurses.

    During this time I hope you can still find time to continue to keep your members and the public informed on the real needs and grass roots struggles of the many health worker colleagues and friends on the front lines as you are about to join them in their fight against the spread and containment of this Virus.

    Stay safe.

    Fight hard.

  6. Kia ora Grant. Reading between the lines one gets the impression of a general takeover of the health sector in some kind of strange, subverted manner. Hopefully your future is not quite so stressful!

  7. Labour party mandarins instructed to take you out by a Dr of philosophy because he wanted the membership to not strike for a proper settlement
    and instead had delegates doing something that they didnt want to do which was trying to sell an 18% payrise to the membership when it wasnt an 18% payrise to all.

    Now you have a bigger job! To try and dismantle the CTUs affiliation to the labour partty!

    Good luck!

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