NZ election 2020: Deceit, integrity problem at core of MPs' affairs - Chester Borrows

A staffer for former Prime Minister David Lange says in his time sexual activity in Parliament was rife, and ousted Cabinet minister Iain-Lees Galloway is a victim of the current political climate.

But former National Party MP Chester Borrows said Lees-Galloway had to go, as voters do not trust someone who has been shown to be deceitful.

Lees-Galloway's affair with a former staffer was revealed on Wednesday morning when he was dismissed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It drew instant comparisons to Lange's extra-marital affair with his speechwriter Margaret Pope, whom he eventually married.

"In my time it was a little hub of sexual activity," Lange's former chief press secretary Ross Vintiner told Checkpoint.

"I have known over the years ministers and MPs who have had affairs who have not had to resign. When I first went into Parliament and then the Beehive there were always issues of affairs and I think that has never ceased," he said.

Is it fair that Lees-Galloway was sacked for an extra marital affair if the relationship was between consenting adults? Vintiner said the dismissal comes amid a tense political environment in the run up to a highly-charged election.

Ardern had little choice but cut Lees-Galloway loose, he said.

"To act in another way would really raise a number of questions which are just, quite frankly, not acceptable or tenable at this particular time. We're too close out and we're in obviously the season of sordid politics."

Vintiner said the difference between this case and Lange's relationship with Pope was that Lange and Pope mutually declared their relationship in public.

"People should be a lot more careful about their private lives now because the risk of exposure, which wasn't so obvious back in the 80s, is now very real and very apparent."

Charlotte Parkhill, a partner in Dentons - Kensington Swan's employment team - said while workplace relationships are common, Lees-Galloway's fling with a staffer is problematic given his Workplace Relations portfolio.

Parkhill said Lees-Galloway's actions may also raise the issue of an MP abusing their sway as a government minister.

Opinions on the matter have been varied amongst members of the public speaking to Checkpoint on Wednesday.

Borrows said Lees-Galloway simply had to go.

"The Prime Minister's made it clear that it's not just the fact that he was having an affair but obviously the position he held with Workplace Relations and Health and Safety, and those sorts of things.

"And actually, interoffice relationships, power inequities in relationships has been in the news for the last few years. Think of the law firms, the Defence Force, those sorts of things," he said.

"It is a question of integrity for a minister and the public will be thinking, 'well if he's prepared to lie to his wife, he will lie to us'. So it is about the integrity of the Cabinet.

"It is an affair that's going on alongside being in a married relationship. People will say that's a moral question, but when it comes to whether you can trust what people say or what they do, it's inconsistent with somebody who is supposed to be able to be held to account and [tell] the truth to the public."

Borrows said he did not find there were as many affairs going on in Parliament as he expected there to be when he was an MP.

"Bearing in mind that nowadays MPs are a hell of a lot busier than they ever were. They're expected to cram a lot more into a week than previously, because in the past under the old regime MPs were away from home for longer, Parliament sat for more hours.

"But nowadays MPs are expected to work right through until 10pm, not just in the chamber but in their offices preparing for other meetings and actually holding meetings right up to 10 or 11 o'clock at night.

"There's certainly a lot less drinking going on than they used to be back in the day from all reports."

But the affairs that do occur are not surprising, Borrows said. "You've got a whole lot of Type A competitive people who are conscious of image, and the rest of it, and so these things tend to come out in those sorts of circumstances."