The first of a new series of interviews with lesser-known MPs: we meet Mark Mitchell

How were you politicised? Were your parents political?

Yes. My grandfather was Frank Gill, the National Party MP for East Coast Bays. He was in [Sir Robert] Muldoon's cabinet for two terms so I grew up in a political family.

And were your parents political as a result of that?
Certainly Dad has always taken a keen interest in politics. He was a mayoral candidate in Rodney one year and he takes a very keen interest in local government politics. He developed a league table system whereby you measure the financial performance of councils and he went all over the world helping councils with their financial planning.

Do you have a political hero, living or dead?
It's not in my nature to have any heroes but if I was going to pick one, it would probably be, dead, Ronald Reagan. I have a deeply ingrained respect for him. He was very convicted, he loved his country, he didn't come up through the old political elite systems and he achieved some great things for America. And living, John Key. Having gone through the last election, he has got an incredible ability to absorb pressure and yet remain focused on what's important. I think part of the of the reason he is so good is because he did his apprenticeship in corporate America and international business. That's such a tough pressure-cooker type of environment.

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What was your most memorable summer holiday as a child?
Every summer holidays we went to the beach with the family. We had a caravan at Pauanui. So every summer holidays was spent at the caravan and I had a big group of friends and we spent 80 per cent of the time on the bench surfing.

You've been in Parliament three years, so what's the best advice you can give to a new MP?
The best advice I got - and I applied it throughout my whole life - was that when you are embarking on a new job or a new challenge, it is really important to listen, to watch and listen and pick up as much as you can and then start applying what you've learned and do the best that you can.

What would be your dream portfolio if you were ever in Cabinet?
My dream portfolio would be trade. I'm deeply passionate about trade and that's really what drove me back home to get involved in politics. I see the future of our country is tied directly to how well we can continue to trade with the rest of the world.

What do you mean "drove me back home?"
I had my own company when I lived in the Middle East. My company was operating in a lot of emerging markets that are fairly important for New Zealand and I felt we could have been doing better. We were living in Kuwait and basically my wife said to me one day, 'stop moaning about it and do something about it'. I reflected on it and thought the contribution I could make would be to return home and get involved in politics.

What sort of company was it?
There were two parts to it. I was involved on the management board of a global logistics company, one of the top 10. It was in about 120 countries with about 500 offices with about 30,000 employees. The second part was a security risk management company I formed myself, which was in about 14 countries, and had about 3000 employees which I was the chairman and CEO of. In 2010, when I decided to come back, the company was sold.

What is something readers would be surprised to know about you?
Maybe that I learned to play the violin and was in the orchestra at school, Rosmini College [on the North Shore]

Have you got a bill in the private member's ballot?
I've got one that raises the threshold for a claim that can be made through the small claims tribunal, from $15,000 to $20,000. That will give access to a cheaper process for small to medium sized businesses and individuals. The other one, if a person has been convicted of a crime and as part of their sentencing they have to carry out community service, if they are receiving government welfare and refuse to attend community service then that benefit will start to be reduced after a process of warnings.

If you could be fluent in another language, what would it be?
Probably Arabic. I lived there for a good part of my adult life and one thing that always annoyed me was that growing up New Zealand where language wasn't a big part of our culture, I never developed an ear for languages, so I struggled to learn Arabic, which is probably the second or third most difficult language to learn. I would be nice to be fluent in Arabic because it is a language I would use a lot.

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What book would you like to read this summer and what sort of music would you like to listen to?
The book I've got at the moment is [former US Secretary of State] Colin Powell's book [It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership]. He's a man I've got a lot of respect for. The other book I wouldn't mind reading is the one [former Australian Prime Minister] Julia Gillard has just written [My Story]. Music? I'm a big Roxy Music fan or The Corrs, laid back music. I love Fleetwood Mac.

Have you got a goal for 2015?
A goal in terms of my electorate is to continue to advance Penlink, which is an important infrastructure project that links the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, back into State Highway One. Locally, I've also begun a holistic review of what investment is required to keep our services in line with the amount of growth we are expected to absorb. About a third of all current residential building consents lodged at the Auckland Council are for Rodney. In terms of personal goals politically, I would like to obviously pick up a ministerial portfolio, so I will continue to work hard and show I am capable of taking on that responsibility. And in terms of personal goals, we are defending the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup title in the UK in 2015 and I'm the co-captain, with Damien O'Connor [Labour, West Coast-Tasman].

Mark Mitchell

National MP for Rodney.

• Aged 46.
• Elected in 2011.
• Chairman foreign affairs committee.
• Married to Peggy Mitchell Bourne.
• Blended family of five children.