Shepherd, cop, now MP

KERRY GALLAGHER
Last updated 13:57 29/11/2012
MARK

EARLY INTERVIEW: Mark Mitchell talks to students at Whangaparaoa Primary School, which has been earmarked for investment.

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Mark Mitchell is determined to be in politics for the long haul, despite never initially planning to be a Member of Parliament.

The Rodney MP has been in office for a year, after winning the Rodney seat at the general election in November 2011 to succeed Dr Lockwood Smith, returned as a list MP and Speaker of the House.

Mr Mitchell held a gathering at his electorate office in Orewa to mark the occasion.

While the experience is vastly different from previous jobs he has held, he is keen to continue.

Mr Mitchell had been a shepherd, policeman, international security contractor and hostage negotiator in the Middle East.

He had never wanted to be an MP.

"My grandfather (Frank Gill) was the MP for East Coast Bays and I got turned off politics, I thought for life. I remember going to his place in the weekends and washing abusive slogans off his driveway. I didn't have fond memories at all."

A former air force commodore, Mr Gill was a New Zealand ambassador to the United States from 1981 until his death in 1982, and in Rob Muldoon's cabinet as a health minister for three years and defence minister for three years.

Mr Mitchell changed his mind about politics while overseas. He wondered why New Zealand businesses were not more active in taking advantage of some of the opportunities he saw. So returning to New Zealand and entering politics was a way to do something about it.

He gained the nomination for Rodney, and had big shoes to fill, succeeding Speaker of the House and former cabinet minister Dr Lockwood Smith.

Mr Mitchell held the seat for National on Election Day and has enjoyed the subsequent year as Rodney MP. He says a high was getting a commitment from the Ministry of Education for investment in Whangaparaoa Primary School, while a low was the closure of the Warkworth Court House.

But there have been many incidents and commitments in between.

When Parliament is sitting, Mr Mitchell is in Wellington three days a week, leaving at 5.30am on Tuesday and arriving back at 10pm on Thursday.

He sits on the Commerce, and Law and Order Select Committees. The rest of the time he is working in his electorate. That can mean anything from meeting with constituents to attending events like the Warkworth Rodeo or Stanmore Bay trolley derby.

Monday was a typical example, he says.

Mr Mitchell met NZ Transport Agency representatives, constituents in his office, the Rodney Times for an interview, then compered an event in Wainui. He also met the Rodney Local Board, which includes New Zealand First list MP Tracey Martin, who has also been in the job a year.

Mr Mitchell has found that you can not please everybody and, like all MPs, he has to deal with criticism.

"You try not to take anything personally. But when you become a public figure there's always someone who wants to criticise. I'll listen to anything but I have to remain focussed on the job."

Mr Mitchell says his Orewa team is invaluable, making an otherwise difficult job possible.

He also enjoys a good relationship with neighbouring National MPs Maggie Barrie at North Shore, and Mike Sabin in Northland - not to mention Prime Minister John Key, the Helensville MP.

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If he can, he tries to get half a day on Sunday to spend with wife Peggy and family.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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