Ron Mark’s election as New Zealand First Deputy Leader follows logically on from the party’s win in the Northland by-election.

Both events mean the party is beginning to sound more like the voice of disadvantaged rural New Zealand.

On Friday within hours of the announcement that Mr Mark had deposed Tracey Martin as deputy leader he was promoting his Receiverships (Agricultural Debt Mediation) Amendment Bill which proposes an agricultural debt mediation scheme as a mandatory step before the appointment of a receiver in respect of agricultural debt.

The Bill has some support from Federated Farmers and Mr Mark believes it will be needed as the dairy price fall impacts on dairy farming debt – particularly among sharemilkers.

However it is not on the Parliamentary order Paper because it missed out on the latest ballot for Private Members’ Bills.

Though he is quick to say that his first job is to support leader, Winston Peters {“the Boss” as he calls him) his background as Mayor of Carterton, means he brings some valuable insights into his role.

He’s particularly hot on rural roading which he says has been denied funding at the expense of roads of national significance and the urban centres.

“I know from my time in local government that there are those Councils who are already planning, based on the projected funding they are going to  receive,  to let some roads go back from tarseal to gravel,” he said.

“Tararua is one.

“They’ve had their reductions and they are looking at their numbers and consideration has to be given to accepting the fact that they can’t make up the shortfall with rates therefore they are going to have to lower their standard of service.”

Advertisment

Mr Mark believes there is growing support for New Zealand first from the country’s provincial areas.

As Mayor of Carterton from 2010 till 2014 he regularly attended Local Government New Zealand’s rural and provincial Mayor’s forum.

Recently Winston Peters addressed the forum and Mr Mark went back with him.

“I have never seen that body more receptive, more attentive to Winston,” he said.

“I think there is a very serious mood out there where are saying – actually, Northland was right.

“We’ve been promised things and taken for granted for too long and it’s not getting any better.”

He says he is thoroughly comfortable with New Zealand First being seen as the voice of rural and provincial New Zealand.

“Those people and those communities fit perfectly with our psyche, with our ethos, with our values and principles.”

Along with his army background, this provincial emphasis can easily lead to the suspicion that Mr Mark leans towards National.

One former key staff member from the Bolger Government suggested to POLITIK that he had actually approached National back in the 90s with a view to joining.

But Mr Mark vigorously refutes this.

He says if anything it’s been the other way round with every party in Parliament except the Greens at some stage or another hinting he should jump ship.

But he won’t.

He sees himself now as Mr Peters’ lieutenant and as a mentor for the party’s new MPs. He is also now on the party board which could be uncomfortable for a while given that it is chaired by Tracey Martin’s mother.

However what he might do is to give some structure and order to the party’s policies and the way they are promoted.

He works closely with chief of staff David Broome and what we may be seeing now is a new stage in the evolution of New Zealand First as a mainstream party.