Dirty politics part of the job: study

00:17, Sep 08 2014

Career politicians specialising in digging dirt are at the heart of the prominence of "dirty politics" in New Zealand, according to a new study.

Almost one-third of sitting MPs have spent most of their lives in politics, even before they entered Parliament, according to the study by Geoffrey Miller, of the University of Otago.

The research was commissioned by Blackland PR director Mark Blackham, who said politics was now a professionalised game where underhanded denigration of opponents was considered part of the job description.

"Career politicians find it easier to be against something than for it – so it is essential to demonise your opponents," Blackham said.

Miller said the absence of policy differences between the two main parties made them almost interchangeable – meaning some were keen to distract voters with scandal.

"In 2014, it would be difficult to imagine National repeating its famous 2005 billboard campaign in which it directly contrasted its policies with Labour's – because there is now so little difference," he said.

The billboard campaign had highlighted different policies, including infamously comparing "iwi" with "Kiwi".

"Working for Families, KiwiSaver and subsidising first-time home buyers are all examples of policies which Labour and National now largely agree on," Miller said.

The results of the study showed a "flattening out" of differences between working histories of MPs in each party.

In the past, differences between parties were starker – with more businesspeople in National, and almost none in Labour.

Now, differences in the careers of MPs in each political party were very small, with 18 per cent of National MPs having worked in a business background, compared to 12 per cent in Labour.

"We're seeing people enter Parliament because of their own self-interest, not their life experience," Miller said.

National MPs had the most experience in agriculture and business or property development, with 12 in each category.

Labour MPs were most likely to have had no single dominant career, or to have worked for the government in some way.

Proportionately, NZ First had the most MPs with business backgrounds, while the dominant working history of Green MPs was in unions or activist agencies.