Rodney MP Mark Mitchell is standing for leader of the National Party.
I posted the maiden speeches of the other three candidates on Saturday.
Here is Mark’s:
MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) : I stand before you today filled with pride at being given the opportunity by the people of Rodney to represent them in this, our 50th Parliament, and I am honoured to be addressing the House for the first time. Mr Speaker, I congratulate you on your reappointment to the high office of Speaker. You have already been recognised across this House for your sound judgment and fairness, and I look forward to being under your guidance in this Chamber.
Mr Speaker, you have been Minister of Education, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Tourism, and Minister for International Trade during your career, and oversaw the producer board reform that ultimately led to the creation of Fonterra and Zespri Group Ltd. You launched our successful “100% Pure” marketing campaign, which was a global success. But perhaps most important, you were the original instigator of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You are also renowned for your singing voice, and your annual concert in Rodney is an event constituents look forward to every year. I have made a commitment to continue with this concert, and although I feel my own voice is pretty good I have been assured by those closest to me that I need to find another way of keeping that tradition alive.
I live in Ōrewa, in the heart of the Rodney electorate. Rodney is a wonderful part of New Zealand, stretching from Albany Heights, Wainui, and Dairy Flat in the south, to Warkworth, Matakana, and Leigh in the north. We have been blessed with the beautiful Hibiscus and Kowhai coasts, stunning regional parks like Shakespear Regional Park, Wenderholm, and Mahurangi, and we are home to two marine reserves, one of which, Goat Island, was the first in New Zealand. The new Northern Motorway has brought Auckland closer to Rodney, and our towns in the south of the electorate are experiencing strong growth while still retaining their unique character. Further north, our communities are more rural. Some have become famous, like Pūhoi for its pub and cheese factory, or Waiwera for its geothermal hot pools. We have the charm and history of Warkworth, world-class wine trails, great schools, strong communities, and a real pride in our beautiful part of New Zealand.
However, there are challenges ahead and I am focused on finding solutions that will allow us to develop our infrastructure and services in step with our population growth. This includes the Pūhoi to Wellsford motorway extension and the Penlink development, and I will work hard on common-sense policies and legislation that will encourage investment and growth in our local businesses and economy.
I would like to acknowledge my superb campaign team, who worked incredibly hard, who did the basics superbly, combined with innovative ideas, and really took the campaign to our opponents. I know many of you are gathered around the TV today in Warkworth and Ōrewa, and although I cannot mention everyone, you know that our result was a testament to your drive, passion, and belief in the National Party values and vision for a brighter future. I would like to make special mention of our electorate chair, Jennie Georgetti, and campaign chair, John Evans. Your determination and will were contagious. Thanks also to our regional executive, Alan Towers and Stephen McElrea. Stephen, your solid, dependable advice and guidance was of great assistance to a new candidate. Thanks to our National campaign team who provided a steady rudder and reliable compass to us all, and to president Peter Goodfellow and our board of directors for your support, guidance and counsel.
I was born on the North Shore of Auckland and spent my first years living on the Whenuapai Airbase. My dad was a flight lieutenant, flying Orions in No. 3 squadron. My mum was the daughter of the base commander, Air Commodore Frank Gill—my grandfather—who was also the National Party MP for East Coast Bays, Minister of Health, and Minister of Defence, and our New Zealand Ambassador to Washington. Dad managed to catch the eye of my mum at a base dance and the rest, as they say, is history.
One of the great lessons I learnt early from my dad was about not giving up. When the inaugural Auckland Star Takapuna to Rangitoto race was cancelled due to bad weather, Dad decided to make the swim anyway. He battled strong winds and swells to complete a difficult swim. He won the race and set the best time. Being the only competitor did not matter. Because my mum was the daughter of a career air force officer and spent her childhood on different postings around the world, when she was finally able to settle in one place she nested. There were four of us kids, but our house was always filled with orphans whom Mum would take under her wing. I learnt early that not everyone is born into a loving, caring home, and that when we can help, we should.
I am from Irish Catholic, English, and Canadian stock, with my ancestors arriving in New Zealand from 1860 through to 1919. I was educated at Rosmini College in Auckland, a Catholic school, whose motto is “Legis plenitudo charitas”—charity fulfils the law. A Google search of social justice will result in the name of Father Antonio Rosmini, the original founder of the school. I am a strong advocate of social justice. However, I reject claims that social justice and conservatism are exclusive of one another. On leaving school I went farming in the central North Island. I was lucky enough to be given my first job by Gary Ramsay, who is here today in the gallery. Farming taught me what long hours of hard physical work and graft were all about. Our farmers and our rural sector is where our No. 8 wire attitude and common-sense approach to problem solving was born.
From my own time overseas in a competitive environment, I discovered that those problem-solving skills and “failure is not an option” attitude helped me stand out amongst the crowd. As a country we need to recognise the importance of these qualities and fight hard to retain them as part of our culture and psyche.
In 1989 I joined the New Zealand Police. I was a member of the dog section and armed offenders squad. I would like to acknowledge the officer in charge of the police dog training centre, Sergeant John Edmonds, who is here today. I was lucky enough to have been able to serve with you, and it is a great honour to have you present here today. My partner on the dog section was a small black German shepherd named Czar. When we graduated, our final report stated Czar was a natural-born police dog, and that if the team did not perform operationally, the handler should be replaced, not the dog. He loved children but did not have much time for adults. One of the first jobs we attended together put us head to head with an offender armed with a samurai sword, whose intent was to attack medical staff at Rotorua Hospital. During the arrest both Czar and I were stabbed—me through my right arm and Czar in the chest. We both recovered, although I never regained the full use of my arm.
I thank the Hon Judith Collins for the leadership she provided in making sure our police officers were given every tactical advantage and option available. Had Tasers been around in my day, I would have had a much better tennis swing. One thing I could see early in my career was the amount of damage gangs and organised crime did to our communities. Whether they be the Mongrel Mob, Hell’s Angels, or Asian triads, they are parasites living off the back of our communities and a bunch of low-life cowards. Hunting in packs, they rob, steal, rape, murder, intimidate, assault, and generally terrorise anyone unlucky enough to get in their way. Many of the social issues we face today are connected either directly or indirectly to the gang culture.
Our police service is now being led by leaders rather than managers. With morale the highest it has been for years and with the best police officers in the world we are on the right side of the ledger in continuing to tackle gangs and organised crime. Our brave men and women of all our emergency services have my full support, admiration, and gratitude for the services you provide our country. I make a commitment to my electorate that I will be strong on law and order and will support changes to bail laws that strengthen the rights and protection for victims of crime.
Our Rodney health services are very important, with a growing population and a high number of older people choosing to retire in Rodney. I support our locally driven initiatives, like the Rodney Health Trust and the Rodney Surgical Centre, which are providing local services for our communities. I am proud of how far we have come as a country in our understanding, caring, and tolerance of those suffering from a mental illness or depression. I was often asked if I was angry at the person who stabbed me, who at the time was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. No, I was not angry with him. He did not wake up one morning saying: “I want to be a paranoid schizophrenic.” He was ill with a sickness he did not want.
In 2000 I lost my younger brother, Sean. He was intelligent, the life of the party, an active member of the Auckland coastguard rescue team, and was diagnosed with manic depression. He wrote a letter to us, his family, and then swam into the Rangitoto Channel. We found him the next day washed up on Rangitoto Island. We love and miss you, Sean. I applaud John Kirwan and the courage it took to tell his own story about depression and the debilitating effects it can have. I am committed to supporting the mental health services in our communities.
In 2002 I resigned from the police to live a quiet life raising and training horses in Taupō. But fate had other plans, and in 2003 I found myself in Iraq as part of a small team establishing a safety and security programme for the newly formed interim Government. It was a tough year for me, because it was the first time in my life I was exposed to the ugliness of corruption and extreme ideologies in a country where there was very little regard for human life. The first election in Iraq had over 7,000 candidates for 235 parliamentary positions. Opposing candidates would dispose of each other with roadside bombs and hit squads. It helped me to put a little context around the teapot tapes last year. In 2005 I was asked to establish the Provincial Joint Operations Centre in southern Iraq. This was the command centre for all the newly formed Iraqi security forces. Iraq faces some very big challenges in its rebuild, but I was lucky enough to work with some very good men and women, and, where there are good men and women, there is hope.
In 2005 I was approached and asked to establish a security programme for a company that was providing food and life support to the coalition in Iraq. Seen as a legitimate target by al-Qaeda as they were supporting the Government, employees of the company were being attacked and killed. The security programme I put in place was successful and soon I was being approached by Governments, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, to assist with logistics and protective support in high-threat and difficult environments.
Although I have the deepest respect for organisations such as the United Nations, I also saw how difficult it was for big, bureaucratic organisations to move quickly when sometimes people needed protection and aid today, as it would be too late tomorrow. I am proud of the fact I was part of a dedicated team that formed an initiative backed by the World Economic Forum to create emergency logistics teams set up to deploy aid into areas struck by humanitarian disasters. I am proud that we led refugees out of Lebanon to safety when they were trapped in a war between Israel and Hezbollah, that we protected and supported scientists from the Hague to open and take evidence from mass graves in their case against Saddam Hussein, that we delivered food and medical supplies to flood-ravaged areas of Pakistan and ensured it got to the people who needed it, and that we were able to open up a supply chain to get food and medical supplies into Darfur and Mogadishu.
I have been a farmer, a policeman, a small business owner, and the founder of a successful global company. I understand the pressures they face, the responsibility they carry, and the importance that each one plays in the future of our country. But they cannot carry the weight by themselves. I believe that for the privilege of living in this beautiful country, regardless of when we arrived, we all have the same obligation, and that is to look for ways to contribute to New Zealand’s future.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge my family. To my wife, Peggy—I would not be standing here today delivering this maiden speech if it was not for your unconditional love and support. You have helped me achieve my dream, and I hope that I can help you achieve yours. To my children, Taylor, Spencer, and Jazlin—your father was taken away from you and New Zealand too early. Possum was the only sportsman in New Zealand to beat the Aussies in their own national championship seven times in a row—what a legend. But first and foremost, he was a loving and caring father. I will continue to do my best to provide you with the love and security that your father would have provided. To my daughter, Sylvie—yes, honey, it did feel like life had really begun for me when you came into this world, and I am proud of the caring young lady you are growing into. To my son, Nathan—you’re the man. Your energy and enthusiasm for life is contagious. To my sisters, Lissa and Tracey—I love you both. Thank you to my Auntie Francis and Uncle Rodney, and to Geoffrey and Lynda Bourne, for also being here.
I am back in the service of my country. There is no greater honour. Thank you.