9 Jun 2021

Matangireia | Season 2 | Episode 6: Denise Roche

From Matangireia, 6:03 am on 9 June 2021

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

Warning: This article discusses sexual violence and could be distressing for some people.

Former Green MP Denise Roche remembers the day she revealed in Parliament she was a survivor of sexual abuse - and taking a stand against then Prime Minister John Key.

“His political persona I thought was just shockingly horrible and reeking of a type of privilege and elitism which I just find offensive to the very core.”

Former Green MP Denise Roche shares her opinion on former Prime Minister John Key to Mantangireia presenter Scott Campbell.

*The views expressed in this interview are the honestly held opinion of Denise Roche

Denise Roche is a politician who knows what it means to take a stand.

In 2015, The Green MP and other politicians walked out of Parliament’s Debating Chamber in protest.

This came after then Prime Minister John Key accused the Labour Party of “backing the rapists” – his way of describing New Zealand detainees being held on Christmas Island in Australia.

“I have no sense of the man - of the person,” Roche said of Key.

Denise Roche as a child

Denise Roche as a child Photo: Supplied / Denise Roche

“His political persona I thought was just shockingly horrible and reeking of a type of privilege and elitism which I just find offensive to the very core”.

Opposition MPs demanded Key apologise. He wouldn’t. They requested the Speaker make him. He wouldn’t.

At the time he was considered one of the most popular Prime Ministers of all time.

“I think people like, you know a jokie white guy who’s gonna make you chuckle and might be useful on the barbecue kind of guy,” Roche said. 

“But he was deeply offensive to so many people.”

By walking out of the debating chamber that day, Ms Roche and Opposition MPs had also revealed they were survivors of sexual abuse.

It was a brave call and Denise Roche remembers feeling scared and panicked. 

She was worried not about herself, but about the impact on all women – including her sisters and daughters.

“This is where you get the mad, sad and bad kinda reputation from ‘oh she survived sexual abuse she must be completely f***ed up.”

But, her children were proud of their mum’s stance.

“It’s like people with mental health issues do you disclose this publicly because you will wear this – and people will judge you.”

Denise Roche went to Parliament, like many aspiring politicians to change the world.

With an extensive background in trade unions, and fire in her belly after her time at Auckland Council, politics was always going to be her calling.

She spent two terms in opposition, leaving frustrated, but always felt “exhilarated and privileged”.

“I don’t know what it’s like to not be in opposition but even in opposition, you can make incremental changes and I felt like I did”.

Convincing the National government to increase the refugee quota, and outlawing zero-hour contracts, were two of the areas Roche said she helped to create change.

Denise & her daughter Matariki

Denise & her daughter Matariki Photo: Supplied / Denise Roche

A self-described “consensus politician,” Roche said her Green Party colleagues would remember as “the person who made the soup for the staff.” 

So, was the day she walked out of Parliament her toughest?

“No, my toughest day in parliament was what happened to Metiria (Turei), when Metiria resigned’.

“I didn’t want her to resign. You know, when I think about it now with 2020 hindsight, I read her speech and we talked about her speech before she delivered it... none of us thought it would destroy her career”.

During the 2017 General Election campaign launch, the Greens co-leader Metiria Turei admitted to what the media labelled ‘benefit fraud’. 

As a student she didn’t tell WINZ she had flatmates, because she was worried her solo parent benefit would be cut.

Metiria Turei claimed she was using her platform to speak the “truth of power” and highlight issues for beneficiaries.

“I think if we could have foreseen the kind of backlash, and the push back, and the harm it would cause her and her family personally,” Roche said.

“I wish we had thought that through better and been able to protect her.”

The backlash almost caused the Green Party to implode, Roche said with fellow MP Kennedy Graham being the most vocal.

“He wanted her to stand down, he wouldn’t be in a Government where she was a minister, he wouldn’t serve under her as his leader.”

Three days of intense criticism was too much, and Turei stepped away as co-leader.

Denise Roche with Green Party Māori Candidates

Denise Roche with Green Party Māori Candidates Photo: Supplied / Green Party Campaign Photo

Roche described the Green Party at times as "a dysfunctional whānau" and was honest in her assessment of current co-leader James Shaw.

“It’s no secret that I’m way left of James Shaw.” 

Recently, Roche’s daughter Matariki graduated University with a degree in te Reo Māori and Sociology, and a minor in Māori Studies. 

“I kinda feel really sad that my dad didn’t get to see this, and my grandma didn’t get to see that her lineage and her whakapapa is coming through."

Roche never got the chance to learn her own language as a child.

“My kids are so much better prepared for the world than she (my grandma) was able to enable her kids to be so it’s this healing,” Roche said.

“Something to be really proud of”.

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 New Zealand TV 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 NZTV 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