Peter Harris, the “left wing” half of the Harris/Hooten team canned from Radio NZ is an interesting character.
The Listener of 14.4.01 described him as one of the inner circle of power in the Labour government. He served as an economic advisor to Minister of Finance, Michael
Cullen from 1999 to 2003.
In September 2003, Harris was appointed by Energy Minister Pete Hodgson to the newly formed Electricity Commission. Said Richard Prebble in The Letter of 20.2.06 “Labour in a confused way is moving to regulate utilities. Electricity is now a total mess. The new Electricity Commission is second-guessing Transpower…”
In 2004, Harris headed a new group set up by Michael Cullen to work out proposals to make employers handle their employees Superannuation contributions.
Harris is clearly a very influential man. What is his background?
Peter Harris was born in South Africa and was educated in Rhodesia. He came to NZ in 1973 after being active in student politics in Rhodesia and South Africa.
He became an economics lecturer at Massey University, then joined the Public Service Association as a research Officer in the mid ’70s. He also became active in the anti Apartheid movement.
In April 10th,1978 the pro Soviet, Socialist Unity Party published the first of many of Harris’s articles in its newspaper, “Tribune” entitled “Do Wage Rises Cause Unemployment?”
In March 1980, Harris returned to what was now Zimbabwe to join an eight member research commission as research officer. The appointment was expected to be for five months. According to the PSA Journal, September 1980, the commission was charged with looking at ways to improve living standards, reduce inequalities, improve conditions of work and repair some of the damage done by years of civil war .
In 1981 Harris wrote an article for the SUP’s theoretical journal “Socialist Politics” entitled “Towards the 21st Century“.
In 1984-85, Harris was one of several SUP linked figures on the Labour Party’s Policy Council. According to the late Bruce Jesson, writing in “Metro” of November 1988, Harris was the “main architect of the alternative economic policy put forward to counter the “Rogernomics” policy of Roger Douglas. Organised by party members Fran Wilde, Helen Clark and Rob Campbell. Presented and supported in the policy council by Ann Hercus, Margaret Wilson, Jim Anderton and Bill Rowling. Its themes were a union-government-employer accord.”
Harris was still on Labour’s Policy Council in the late ’80s. In 1988 he penned another article for “Socialist Politics” “Improving the Skills Stock-Who Pays“
In 1989 Harris was quoted in 15th May “Tribune” on the Douglas-Prebble asset selling budget. “An appalling hotch-potch of poor logic, bad economics, commercial naivety, a lack of history and a worse vision for the future“. He was at the time an economist for the Council of Trade Unions.
In April 1990 Harris wrote an article in Tribune “The Risks of Privatising a Natural Monopoly” on the privatisation of Telecom.
In February 1991, Harris penned another “Tribune” article on the impending disaster of that season’s wool prices.
Another “Tribune” article followed in March on “Ka Awatea”.
So close to the SUP was Harris that the rival Communist Party of NZ described him in their “People’s Voice” of September 23rd 1991 as an “SUP “fellow traveler“.
In the early ’90s Harris was heavily involved in the “Workplace Reform” project. This was a reincarnation of the SUP’s Accord/Trade Union Compact project of the late 1980s.
In June 1993 Harris spoke at the Peace, Power and Politics conference in Wellington “Economic Sovereignty and the New Right.”
In the late ’90s Harris was on the CPI Revision Advisory Committee, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology Review Panel, NZ Universities Academic Audit Unit Board and the Trade Union History Project.
In 1999, before leaving the CTU to take up the job with Michael Cullen, Harris sent a clear message when he spoke to the CTU conference. He said “There is potential to engage in implementing the new agenda….These conditions for active and constructive unionism have not been as positive since the election of the first Labour government sixty years ago. In a funny way, that is no coincidence. It was out of the crisis of the depression that a new way forward was found then. It is out of the crisis of ideology and debt that the new way forward will be found now.”