First-term MPs: Jenny Marcroft on her 'trial by fire', Parihaka, and balancing work and home

With the 52nd Parliament wrapped up after nearly three years, Newshub spoke to four MPs who have just finished their first term about their experience as a politician. The interviews will be released throughout the week.

Jenny Marcroft entered Parliament in 2017 as a New Zealand First MP. 

She is a graduate of the University of Waikato and the Hamilton Teachers College, earning education and teaching qualifications.

After spending time working a teacher in both New Zealand and the UK, Marcroft entered the world of broadcasting, an industry she'd be part of for more than 30 years. During that time, Marcroft read the news on both radio and television, including at MediaWorks.

She is standing again for New Zealand First at the 2020 election in the seat of Auckland Central. 

Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What motivated you to become an MP and why for New Zealand First?

I am an extreme centrist. I don't go too far to the left or too far to the right. Bang smack in the middle of the centre of politics. New Zealand First as a centrist party was really aligned with my own personal values.

When you entered Parliament, was there adequate support or did you feel thrown in the deep end?

We were really thrown in the deep end. As a party with 7.2 percent of the vote, we were then involved in the coalition negotiations. As a brand new MP, myself and my colleague Mark Patterson, we were involved in all of those discussions, putting together the policy that would be taken into the negotiations, the debriefs after each of the meetings. We worked really closely with our colleagues in casual to get the right discussions to be happening inside those negotiations. It was pretty much trial by fire. What that meant was all of the rest of class of 2017 politicians, they went off and had their induction with Parliamentary Service. Mark and I missed out on a lot of that. We did do a couple of them which were outstanding. 

How important is it to have a group of MPs for support?

Politics is all about people and if you can't develop good relationships with the people you are working with, it's not really a place you should be in. For me, it was really critical that Mark [Patterson] and I coming as the newbies, that we developed a really good relationship and it was really easy cause he's such a cool dude. 

It was pretty much trial by fire. 

Were you able to build relationships with MPs across the aisle?

One of the things I am probably known for amongst the backbenchers is my ability to reach out across in a really collaborative way, work cross-party. There are good people on all sides of the House and I have been really lucky to form what I believe are some really good friendships with people in the National Party as well as Labour and the Green Party. We can see the humanity in what we are doing, we can see that politics is a people business. If you have got the skills to be a good conversationist and you have a particular idea that you want to progress through, then it is really important to work in a bipartisan manner. 

What was the most rewarding moment of the term or your biggest achievement? 

The most impressive moment on a personal level is giving your maiden speech. That aside, I think for me the next thing possibly was going to Parihaka and being part of the hearings process for the Parihaka Reconciliation Bill. That for me was the most humbling moment, to hear their stories.

Jenny Marcroft is a former broadcaster.
Jenny Marcroft is a former broadcaster. Photo credit: RadioLIVE.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge for me as a single mum has been to leave my daughter behind on a Monday and head off down to Parliament. I have had to rely on my family to look after her. It was one of those challenges I had to think about it before I went into Parliament. But It wasn't until I got there that I realised how disruptive Parliament and politics is for family life and I have had to have really good measures around feeling safe in that space.

I knew I was a resilient person. I come from a background that was not your silver spoon type of background. I had a lot of challenges through my teenage years with family violence and those sorts of things. I knew you don't have to be a victim. I knew you can find a way to be a survivor and succeed and thrive in life. This was a new kind of challenge, where I didn't want to go into politics and not do anything meaningful.

The culture of Parliament in terms of bullying has been in the spotlight recently. How did you find that and how did you deal with it?

You see it, not on a daily basis. Part of it is show and part of it is the theatre of it. You also too can see that people get a little bit above their stations. They embrace that whole 'what is power' thing and take it to mean that they can use their own personal power against someone. I have never brought into that ideology whatsoever, the psychological stealing of people's power, the abuse of your own personal power against others. Yes, that is there in Parliament. You see snippets of it. As it is throughout the rest of society. For our society to grow and mature, we need to call this type of behaviour, but as parliamentarians, we also need to set a high standard.

Overall, how different was your experience in Parliament to what you expected going in?

When you hear 'there is a lot of reading, there is a lot of work, there is a lot of hours', you can only imagine what that is like. In my previous career as a broadcaster, I had pretty rugged hours and the work was intense and really meaningful. Politics, you don't get a lot of laughs along the way. You have to find lighter moments to keep a balance. It is an intensity that is all-consuming. Unless you are prepared to, and your family is prepared to allow you to do that, you'll get consumed by it.

This was a new kind of challenge, where I didn't want to go into politics and not do anything meaningful.

Did you have any exercise routines during your term or anything to relax?

It's really important to take care of yourself on that holistic level. I did a bit of the parliamentary walking group for a while. I was a bit of a failed member of that. I am very much into mindfulness, meditating, and I do also like going to the beach. I find that is a really good place to ground myself. 

When you first entered Parliament, was there anyone you were starstruck by?

I knew that my leader Winston was a really impressive character. I was absolutely engaged with his ability to speak in the House. I have been really impressed by Shane Jones. He is an outstanding orator. Also, Tracey Martin. When she is on a roll, she certainly can deliver a fine speech.

What's your favourite food at Copperfield's Cafe at Parliament?

Probably the doughnuts. Fortunately, they didn't come out very often but every now and then we would have a doughnut Thursday. Our last Health Select Committee, we had a tray of doughnuts to share.

What would be your advice for any new MPs?

You have to get your home life sorted. That is really important that you have really good systems in place. Particularly, if you are like me, a single mother, it is so important that you know home is taken care of so you can focus on your job.