9 Jun 2021

Matangireia | Season 2 | Episode 3: Ron Mark

From Matangireia, 6:00 am on 9 June 2021

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

In 1996 New Zealand First shook up the political landscape. And for 25 years Former MP Ron Mark stood by the party and its enigmatic leader.

“Loyalty demands you stand by your boss and stand by your leader” – Ron Mark speaking to Mantangireia presenter Mihingarangi Forbes on his time in the army and his unwavering service to New Zealand First.  

*The views expressed in this interview are the honestly held opinion of Ron Mark

Ron Mark is a staple of New Zealand politics. 

The former New Zealand First MP’s political career spans 26 years and he’s certainly no stranger to many.

But it wasn’t until he was in his 30s he found out the meaning of his own name and whakapapa.

“I was brought up as a foster kid and there's a lot about myself I never knew for a long time.”

Ron Mark’s full Māori name is Rongowhitiao Maaka.  

The name belonged to Ron Mark’s grandfather and was passed down to him as the eldest grandson. 

“I guess back in that time people chose not to use their Māori name, or they found it challenging when Pākehā and others couldn’t pronounce their name,” Mark said.

“So he shortened his name, he used the name Ron Mark as opposed to Rongowhitiao Maaka.”

Ron Mark, Labour Campaign 1993 with Mike Moore

Ron Mark, Labour Campaign 1993 with Mike Moore Photo: Supplied / Ron Mark

Growing up in the state care system was often tough, but Mark found comfort with several good foster families.

Among them were war veterans who would become uncles, later inspiring a career in the military. 

“When other kids wanted to be doctors, and nurses, and policemen, and go to university, I just wanted to be a soldier,” he said.

He recalled when an uncle spoke to him about the courageous Māori Battalion.

“He said to me, ‘you know, Ronnie, if you’d seen what I saw the 28th Māori Battalion do in Egypt, in Africa and in Italy, you would forever be proud that you’re Māori, don’t ever forget that’… and that stuck with me for years,” he said.  

Ron Mark joined the army at 16 years old and was surprised at the number of Māori boys who came from the same background as him.

“Nothing was ever expected of them… in fact, that’s what my deputy principal said after he caned me on my final day at school, signed my leaving certificate and told me to get out.”

Mark said the army instantly felt like family.

Ron Mark School Photo 1960 (Front Row, 2nd from the right)

Ron Mark School Photo 1960 (Front Row, 2nd from the right) Photo: Supplied / Ron Mark

“It was strange, I met these guys and you just had this natural affinity towards each other, they became your brothers.”

His time in the military, however, would ultimately end on a sour note.

With a decade of service including multiple deployments, Ron Mark said he was blocked from advancing through to the SAS, despite passing the selection process alongside the now highly decorated, Sir Jerry Mateparae. 

International opportunity soon came calling though, with Mark invited to serve for the Sultan of Oman. 

He accepted and left New Zealand, ultimately joining the special forces where he worked down on the Yemen border for four years.

During his time in Yemen he learned his most valuable lesson – how to work with people no matter what their culture or religion. 

“We had a simple rule, this is a bit of an irony, we don’t talk politics... we work, and you put aside all those religious differences.”

However, politics would be waiting for him on his return home to Aotearoa.

Ron Mark as a Soldier

Ron Mark as a Soldier Photo: Supplied / Ron Mark

Ron Mark joined the New Zealand First party and first entered parliament in 1996 – the year MMP voting was first used.

His leader Winston Peters became kingmaker, forming a coalition government with the National Party.

“I liked the nationalism view, I liked the New Zealand First philosophy, that was true Ron Mark thinking.”

The early years bring back fond memories for Mark, serving alongside his Māori colleagues who were known as the “tight five” – including Tau Henare, Rana Waitai, Tukoroirangi Morgan, Tuariki Delamere, and Tutekawa Wyllie. 

“It was a bit daunting in a way because they spoke te reo Māori, I didn’t. They understood whakapapa, I was learning how to pronounce the word. I had not been raised in any way within a Māori environment.”

Ron Mark said the men helped to fill in the gaps of his Māori lineage and they formed a close bond.

“I wanted to bang their heads together over that time, but I love them all. They’re brothers, you know, they taught me a lot.”

Relationships between the men and the wider NZ First caucus splintered when the party’s coalition with National broke down. As chief whip, Ron Mark knew his loyalty remained with the leader, Winston Peters. 

“Loyalty demands you stand by your boss and stand by your leader,” he said. 

“I made my choice to stay with Winston and it frustrated me that the others didn’t, and I can see looking back how frustrated they were.”

In 2008 New Zealand First was dumped out of Parliament and Ron Mark entered local body politics, serving as Mayor of Carterton from 2010 to 2014.

Mr Mark said one of the toughest times during that period was the Carterton balloon crash which killed 11 people. 

In 2014, Mark returned to Parliament with NZ First, a move that would ultimately lead to his dream role just three years later, as Defence Minister.

“When I took up the job, I set my goal to become the best Minister of Defence, Minister of Veterans the country’s ever had. And I knew to do that, I had to achieve,” Mr Mark said.

High on his agenda was securing compensation for George Nepata and an apology for his brother Damien. Both men were seriously injured in separate accidents while serving in the New Zealand Army.

“I’ll sleep comfortably for the rest of my life… the government of the day finally did the right thing, and I’m very proud of that,” he said.

At the 2020 general election, however, NZ First failed to return to Parliament. 

Ron Mark said he didn’t see it coming.

“I look back to 2008, I know what it’s like to be hated, I know what it was like to be thoroughly disliked. I didn’t get that sense in this last election.”

As for the coalition with Labour, he said the differing political positions of both parties needed to be understood and respected.  

I guess, if I got frustrated it was with Labour seeking to steal the credit for things that weren’t theirs.”

But in the end, Ron Mark looks back over his time in politics with pride.   

“There was some tough times, but there were some hellishly good times in there and we achieved a lot of good things.”

Made with the support of NZ On Air

About the Presenters

Mihingarangi Forbes

Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Maniapoto

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Mihingarangi Forbes is an award-winning broadcaster who is known for her fearless brand of journalism, never shying away from asking the tough questions and tackling the big issues.

As the Māori Affairs reporter for One News in the late 90s Forbes spent much of her time at Parliament reporting on Māori politics. ​During that time she reported extensively on the fortunes of NZ First and their clean sweep of the māori electorates in 1996.

Today Forbes hosts three’s current affairs programme The Hui where she regularly interviews politicians from various parties.​ In 2020 Forbes won Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the NZTV Awards.

Maiki Sherman

Ngāpuhi, Te Whakatōhea

Maiki Sherman at Parliament

Maiki Sherman at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Maiki Sherman is an award-winning senior political reporter for TVNZ’s 1news. She’s also the deputy chairperson of Parliament’s press gallery. Having worked across three television networks including Māori Television, Three, and TVNZ, Sherman has developed a reputation for breaking stories and courageous reporting.​

During her career Sherman has covered several general elections, the rise and fall of the Māori Party, Sir John Key’s National government, Hone Harawira’s failed merger with the Internet Party and the ascension of Jacinda Ardern.

In 2014 she showcased her presenting skills when she shared co-hosting duties with Mihingarangi Forbes for Māori Television’s election night coverage.​Sherman is a kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa alumni and a graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, the invitation only academy for excellence in te reo Māori. ​

Scott Campbell

Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga, Te Arawa

Scott Campbell at Parliament

Scott Campbell at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Scott Campbell is a former press gallery reporter, communications specialist and political commentator. ​During his time in the gallery Campbell was known for his fair but firm style of journalism.

He began his television career in 2004 under Three’s editor Stephen Parker before being appointed deputy editor in 2010. ​Campbell was based in the press gallery during the controversial seabed and foreshore legislation which saw 20,000 Māori march on Parliament. He reported on the rise of the Māori Party under the co-leadership of Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples. He also covered Don Brash’s tenure as leader of the National Party.​

Campbell left the press gallery in 2010 and is now the chief executive of Campbell Squared, a communications company based in Tauranga. He is a regular commentator for RNZ, The Hui, Newshub Nation and other media outlets.

About the production team

Annabelle Lee-Mather, Producer/Director

Annabelle Lee-Mather (Ngaai Tahu/Ngaati Kahungunu) is an award-winning journalist with 18-years experience in broadcasting. She served as an EP on RNZ’s NZ Wars series. As well as producing The Hui for Three, Annabelle is the series creator and co-producer of The Casketeers.

In 2020 Annabelle was named Editorial Executive of the year at the Voyager Media Awards.

Mihingaarangi Forbes, Producer/Director

Mihingaarangi Forbes (Ngaati Paoa /Ngaati Maniapoto) Mihingaarangi is an award-winning investigative journalist and the presenter of weekly current affairs series The Hui on Three. She began her career in the 90s as a rookie reporter at Te Karere. Since then she’s worked across a range of channels and mediums, with roles on Campbell Live, 20/20, Native Affairs, and as Māori correspondent for RNZ. In 2020 Mihingaarangi was named Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the New Zealand TV Awards.

Wena Harawira, Executive Producer

Journalist Wena Harawira has a career that spans 4 decades. Harawira was just 19 years old when she became the first wahine to work on TVNZ’s fledgling Māori news service Te Karere alongside the legendary Whai Ngata.​

She went on to become the Executive Producer of news and current affairs at Māori Television where she now leads the newsroom.

Having worked in nearly every aspect of the Māori media industry, Harawira is much admired not only for her leadership and journalism but also for the many reporters she has mentored and inspired.​

in 2017 Harawira was honoured with Te Tohu a Tanara Whairiri Kitawhiti Ngata for lifetime achievement at Ngā Kupu Ora awards.

About Aotearoa Media Collective

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AMC is a boutique Māori production house that specialises in indigenous storytelling and content. Founded in 2019, by journalists Mihingaarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee-Mather AMC has created NZ Wars: Stories of Waitara (RNZ) and The Hui (Three) with Great Southern Television as well as independently producing Matangireia (RNZ) and Coastwatchers: Operation Pacific (TVNZ).

Made with the support of NZ On Air

Made with the support of NZ On Air Photo: NZ On Air