Politicians 'get drunk' on power, have relationships with staff - Ali Mau

Workplace relationships among politicians and their staff could be due to the dominance they have over their employees.

Journalist Ali Mau, who investigates sexual harassment in New Zealand, says politicians can "get drunk" on the power they have and enter into a relationship with staff that has a power imbalance.

Her comments come as Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway was stripped of his ministerial portfolios on Wednesday over a relationship he had with a former staff member over a 12-month period.

Mau told The Project MPs "are treated like gods", which is a factor in how they get into relationships with staff.

"These people have a power that is inherent - especially with a Cabinet minister - and I guess they just get drunk on that power and they really think they can behave as they like. What other possible explanation is there for it?"

She says there are different degrees of inappropriateness with the scandals MPs have been a part of this week. National MP Andrew Falloon announced on Monday he was retiring, and later in the day it was revealed he sent explicit photos to at least four young women.

"For example, yesterday and the day before we were talking about Andrew Falloon whose conduct was plainly not only inappropriate but just all types of awful. Sending non-consensual pornographic pictures to young women - or to anybody - when it's not consensual is leaping over the line," Mau says.

"Today's news with Iain Lees-Galloway is a little bit different but it has been marked out as inappropriate by both himself and the Prime Minister."

She says she contacted a barrister she knows to ask for advice on the appropriateness of workplace relationships.

"Her point was interesting, she said it's not about the affair, it's about the implications of the relationships. So is there pillow talk that potentially raises a conflict of interest, is there preferential treatment of that person or negative treatment of that person after the affair ends, those are the important things."

These relationships can create "disruption or distraction" in the workplace, and these are the issues that need to be managed.

Mau says the barrister advised people talk to their boss if they are in a relationship with a coworker so it's all out in the open.