Final President’s Desk from Tom O’Connor

March 11, 2018

Tom O’ConnorTom O’Connor

My final year as president has been one of exciting highs and only a few disappointing lows.

Prior to the general election in October last year board members spent a considerable amount of time and effort with political parties working with them to develop some of the policies the new Government is now implementing. These include a new housing policy for the elderly, a new age care policy, rates rebates for residents in licence to occupy rest homes, free shingles vaccine and easier access to medical cannabis. This last issue still needs some work as the Government’s Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill does not go far enough but we have made a submission to the Select to the Health Select Committee suggesting some logical changes.

We have also made a submission on the Telecommunications (new regulatory framework) Bill in response to the concerns of many members about the future of the copper wire technology.

Few other groups have such a positive working relationship with all political parties and an essential part of that success is our strict political independence. Any suggestion that we support one political party over another or have an association with a political party would bring an end to the open door invitation we currently have with all of them. It is also my opinion, based on first-hand experience, that one of our major strengths is that we are amateur volunteers who speak with the voice and the real experiences of ordinary people. Any move to corporate structure would detract or professionalism would take away much of our current and very significant political influence.

Our success was also due to the fundamental difference between negotiating with political parties in the development of new policies which affect our members and protests about policy we don’t like. The board has shown beyond any doubt that the future lies not in attempting to repeat the protests of past but in making full use of our ability to negotiate good outcomes.

Over the past year there has been significant improvement in the functioning of the board with much more friendly and less acrimonious relationships between members. Disagreements on policy and how we go about our work are normal but I think the toxic atmosphere of the past is gone. Part of the cause of those difficulties I believe are our very complex internal systems. The Modernisation Plan was a good start to resolving some of those issues and I think it is now time to take the next step and simplify our systems. I have written a discussion paper for the new federation board on ways to make our work easier and simpler and they will consider that over the next few months. There is still some undue negativity in the zones but overall being the president of such a diverse group of people is a much more pleasant task now.

We have a Government, and a new style of government, the likes of which this country has not seen since Michael Joseph Savage rescued the nation from the dark days of Great Depression of the 1930 which only our parents can now remember. Hopefully that will mean the bleak times of the past nine years for many of our members are behind us but we cannot relax. To be part of the new order Grey Power will need to be as vigilante and committed to the welfare of our members as ever. That will mean more hard work for the federation board keeping up to date with political developments and visiting Government Ministers in Wellington.

To do that effectively it essential the board is not distracted by the divisive in-house political and personal infighting that was a feature of board business for far too long. It has taken the best part of two years for your hard working board to turn that around. When a democratic decision is made we are honour bound to not only accept it, not matter how we voted, but to also actively support it. It is not acceptable to attempt to undermine or reverse a decision once a vote has been taken. It is an essential corner stone of democracy that the decision of the majority becomes the decision of the whole. Any return to the divisive and destructive ways of the past will prevent Grey Power from achieving much need improvements for members. That would be tragic.

Finally the new look Trans Pacific Partnership treaty, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Grey Power had a number of concerns with the original treaty which had the potential to increase the cost of medications and posed a threat to New Zealand’s ability to make laws without the interference of multinational corporations.

Most, but not all, of those concerns have been addressed in the new treaty but there will be an opportunity to make submissions on the Bill finalising the treaty before it becomes law.

We have a unique and very effective lobby group which enjoys the respect and regard of all political parties. Maintaining that respect and status requires unwavering unity of purpose.

Tom O'Connor
Former National President
Grey Power Federation

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