Act list MP Mark Cameron was one of nine new recruits to the party after the last election. He reflects to Herald political journalist Michael Neilson on his first in over 30 years working off the farm, and bringing an "authentic" rural voice to Parliament.
• List MP, Act Party
• Aged 49, born in Sydney, lives in Kaipara
• Member of the Primary Production Select Committee, member of Parliamentary Service Commission Buildings Committee
• Interesting fact: Speaks Portuguese
Q: How have you found your first year in Parliament?
A: I was awestruck for the first couple of months. I'd spent 30 years doing one thing, farming, and it certainly wasn't wearing suits.
But I learned fast and when I challenged ministers, I found I actually knew a hell of a lot about my industry.
I was proud of challenging the Prime Minister as a backbencher. I have a lot of respect for her, even though I've said flippant remarks as an angry farmer. She's running a country as best she sees it.
As rural affairs spokesman I put together a bill to allow regional councils to set environmental standards in each region rather than the Government. It was pulled from the ballot and ultimately voted down, but I was really proud of that.
Q: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
A: I was born in Sydney, Australia, but came back to New Zealand when I was about 2 with my mother and older sister after she parted ways with my biological father. I didn't really know him until I was about 14 years old.
I was raised by my grandmother for a few years while my mother went back to school and finished university. I have an older sister and two step-siblings.
My mother did an amazing job raising us. She was a solo mum, on a benefit, we lived in a state house for a while, and when I was about 6 lived with a friend up in Northland who had married a farmer.
I fell in love with farming and maybe because I had no father around, the man on the farm was iconic to me - I put a lot of stock in that.
My younger brother died from cancer when he was 23, and then within two-and-a-half years my stepfather passed away of cancer too. We worked through it but it was bloody difficult.
Q: What is your earliest memory?
A: Bobbing for apples when I was 2 in Sydney.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your whānau now?
A: I live with my partner, up on our farm in Kaipara. I have two biological children, and a stepdaughter who's been under my wing for about 10 years.
I haven't been married, just too busy, too much going on in life, and didn't put a whole lot of weight on that personally.
Q: What do you do to unwind from politics?
A: Go fishing. Where we live is about 15 minutes from the boat ramp. I also find farming therapeutic, and in the breaks you might find me doing some fencing.
Q: What is something you are proud of pre-politics?
A: I left school at 15. I was considered an average student but desired to go farming. I set a goal purchasing my first farm at 40, and bought it at 42.
Q: You've spoken out about the mental health of farmers, why is that?
A: I have suffered depression and was medicated in my early 30s for about four years. I was a sharemilker at the time, had significant assets tied up in livestock.
Farmers identify with who we are by what we do. But I found myself in a position where the harder I worked, doing 17 hours some days, the dream was getting further away.
I've seen four farming colleagues take their own lives. I'm not going to politicise suicide in farming communities. But part of what farmers deal with is outside their control, and it doesn't help when a government doesn't understand our situation and doesn't listen.
Q: You've mentioned you had an underlying health condition?
A: I have got chronic kidney disease, about two years away from needing a transplant. I was speaking to my specialist the other day and he said, "What do you want?" And I said, "F'in six years." Because I am going to get re-elected and I have got lots to fix.
I heard you speak Portuguese?
A: After my first relationship broke down, I spent years going back and forth to Brazil as I had friends from there. I met a lady over there, it didn't work out, but at the time I became fluent in the language. I don't speak so much these days but every now and then it comes out in place of something I probably shouldn't say in English.
Q: How and why did you get into politics?
A: I saw a huge societal disconnect from us as farmers, who tend to be quite conservative, not naturally outspoken until we are really worked up. But they didn't have a political voice. It's where the Groundswell movement came from.
We all want the end goals, but you've got to have attainable goals, tools to get there. A lot of what is being asked, from water reforms to emissions cuts, is so disconnected from the reality for farmers, just policy made up on the fly.
Farmers are cognisant of their footprint and the need to do more, and there are some laggards, but really New Zealand's agriculture sector is first in the world. Why can't we first celebrate that as a starting point?
Q: Is there someone you admire in another political party and why?
A: [Climate Change Minister] James Shaw. I don't agree with him on many issues, but he articulates a political narrative without making things personal, is not unnecessarily confrontational, and I respect him for that.
Q: What are the biggest issues for 2022?
A: Education, housing and healthcare.
But farming needs a massive reset. If I was a minister, I would absolutely be incumbent on doing what needs fixing.
Q: If you could take anyone to dinner – dead or alive – who would it be and why?
A: My grandfather. He was on a Lancaster bomber in World War II. I didn't have a father figure when I was young - he was God.
Q: Favourite place for a holiday in Aotearoa?
A: We live in one of the most blessed countries in the world scenically, so I could pick anywhere on the map and with good company and good food, I am content.
And now some quickfire questions...
Q: Beach or mountain getaway?
Q: Favourite beach?
A: On Waiheke Island where my grandmother used to take us. I can't remember the name.
Q: Best road trip song/artist?
A: Anything by Men at Work.
Q: Red or white wine?
Q: Tea or coffee?
Q: Dogs or cats?
Q: Favourite social media?