GUEST BLOG: Grant Brookes – ‘Questions for the NZNO Board and CEO’ – Unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki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 123 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 My unpublished letter is posted below, so readers can judge for themselves whether there is any validity at all in Mairi Lucas’ justifications.

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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


Grant Brookes – Nurse & Trade Unionist


  1. Ah yes, a bit like Radio NZ, eh Bomber…

    Sadly it seems to be the current zeitgeist that dissenters be shut down; be they unionists, free thinkers or Palestinians.

    The word ‘offensive’ is used as the catch-all of every tinpot dictator.

  2. More signs of death of democracy and unions being broken from above and within.

    In addition there is also death of experience and qualifications that is rampant in NZ.

    AKA downgrading professions and duties, such as the rise of positions like healthcare assistants (HCAs) who are apparently being offered a 11% pay rise while nurses are being offered 1.4 percent. With inflation the nurse offer will fall below inflation in particular if it is for 4 years.

    Neoliberals are determined to get rid of equal pay, in favour of ‘pay equity’ aka paying unqualified people the same as qualified people.

    The down grading of care has occurred in particular with aged care, when it has become the norm to staff facilities without a registered nurse on site but with ‘assistants’ and carers. Aged care nurses are paid less than hospital nurses and funny enough, aged care facilities struggle to recruit nurses, so recruit from overseas so they can keep paying less! Don’t worry, the taxpayers then top up the wages for them with WFF, accommodation supplement, wage top ups and residency. Keeps those Ryman profits high!

    Turning to less qualified staff, undermines the quality of care for residents and patients. Nurse assistants are not trained or able to do the same as nurses, so patients must wait until someone qualified is available. Which increasingly takes a long time and patients are in pain and die or get worse and stay sick longer.

    It is a far better use for society to train good nurse assistants into qualified nurses to staff facilities, rather than have so many unqualified people nursing around vulnerable people and making mistakes.

    I spent time in hospital and the nurses seem to do the bulk of the care. However there were nursing assistants who seemed to be a waste of money. They seemed more an agency rort, put on at night (where most of the deaths occur and out of sight) and they actually seemed to do nothing (the odd chamber pot), The nurse on call had to do everything while often translating on their behalf.

    Using more and more unqualified people to care for others might look good on paper to neoliberals, but it is part of the problem of poorer care in NZ and nurses becoming an increasingly unfashionable and stressful profession.

    Likewise hygiene and cleaning in hospitals is vitally important. 18%+ of all deaths in hospital occur from being in the hospital itself. It is no surprise that the rise in contract cleaning of hospitals has also resulted in a rise in necrotizing fasciitis and hospital infections. Again 100 years ago, nurses did the cleaning themselves and didn’t outsource it. Since it is so important to patient care and wellbeing, I struggle to see how this should be given away as cleaning is such a high contributing factor to hospital success rates.

    During the time I was in hospital nobody cleaned under my bed, or any of the tables beside me. Basic hygiene is not present in hospitals anymore as it’s someone else job and thus falls through the cracks.

    Nurse Jenny, the NZ nurse working for the NHS has now quit. Lke Boris, Jacinda might find that nurses require more than the insulting ‘clap for carers’ and a pat on the back. To keep NZ’s high standards we need to ensure that nurse earn enough money from their nursing roles to recruit and retain local nurses, rather than relying on immigration Ponzi’s that eventually like all Ponzi’s, burst.

    Same thing with doctors. They just spent 10 – 18 years studying to get where they are. They need a pay packet that offers reward as well as respect!

  3. For anyone interested in health care, this is a great series to watch. On Netflix currently.

    New Amsterdam.

    New Amsterdam follows Dr. Max Goodwin as he becomes the medical director of one of the United States’ oldest public hospitals, aiming to reform the neglected facility by tearing up its bureaucracy to provide exceptional care to patients.

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