An interview with Bob Harvey

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I had the privilege of interviewing Bob Harvey recently on Red Alert Radio on Planet FM.

Bob has had a huge effect on New Zealand politics. Using his prodigious skills in advertising he was behind some of the most successful political campaign advertisements ever conducted. He then decided to enter into local politics and became Mayor of Waitakere City, a position he held for eighteen years. And he was also a dedicated member of the Labour Party and became Party President at the time that the fifth Labour Government won power.

Due to programming requirements we only had 30 minutes which was a shame as we could have talked for hours.

I started off by asking him about the Labour campaign in 1972 which featured the “Its time” campaign slogan in both New Zealand and Australia. The campaigns were hugely successful with progressive governments being elected on both sides of the Tasman at least in part because of the desire for change that the campaigns engendered.

Bob pointed out how the slogan was perfectly scaleable and stood for many things as it was time for better education, better wages, a clean environment …

We then talked about the agony of the death of Norm Kirk and how it shocked the country. Bob talked about a particularly odious person who managed to ring through to Kirk’s hospital room to repeatedly ask him if he was dead yet in the days leading up to his eventual demise.

After Kirk’s death things went south for Labour. Rob Muldoon emerged and National’s infamous Dancing Cossack advertisements were played. Labour’s campaign in 1972 was uplifting and tucked at the heart strings. By contrast National’s was based on fear. It is funny how so often these different stances reflect the campaigns of the left and of the right.

If you have not seen it this is the ad in question.

There was also this particularly odious racist example that would not survive nowadays.

We then talked about the 1980s. Bob had vivid memories of David Lange and talked in some detail about his stomach stapling operation, and how a slimmer more dynamic David appeared after that and how he then captured the heart of the country.

As befits a talented adman Bob was impressed by David’s inspirational speech to the Oxford Union about nuclear weapons. He also confirmed details that David’s initial position was complex and that he worked to see if a compromise allowing the visit of a nuclear powered but not armed ship could occur.

We then talked about Bob’s decision to seek the mayoralty of Waitakere City. His motivation was a very simple one, he wanted to protect the Waitakere Ranges. He had spent much of his life either living or surfing or visiting the area and wanted it to be protected.

Bob did an extraordinary job in blending together two ideas, that Westies should be proud to be Westies and that they should be proud of our extraordinary environment. He cultured the concept of an eco city and made it central to the way that the city worked.

The film industry, which was fostered by Bob, was a major example of this, showing that high paid high tech jobs could be created at the same time as the environment was being nurtured. The film industry has poured huge amounts of money into the west and has been an outstanding success.

Bob said that there were two new projects coming out west which he could not mention. I wonder if this was one of them?

We talked about the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act and how contentious it was at the time. People have moved on and the Act now represents the protective desires and aspirations that people have for the area.

We talked about the super city and how the concept of eco city was being lost. Bob was particularly scathing about incursions into the Waitemata Harbour and described the luxury cruise ship industry as being “bully boys”.

Bob thought that housing and transport were two pressing problems that the city was facing and that to run a city this size needs enormous imagination a clear commitment to spend. He was also concerned that the current council was something of a a bear pit and councillors should realise they are there to do a job and just get on and do it.

Tamihere verses Goff? Bob had some respect for Tamihere and the work he has done for Waipareira. But he thought the main job of the mayor was to unite the council and expressed his support for Goff.

And what did he think was the biggest issue facing the next super city council? Climate change. And we have gone backwards from having eco city at the front of our thinking to having the environment as only one of many things to consider.

It was a pleasure to talk to Bob and a strong reminder to me of what a significant influence he has had nationally and locally over many decades.

If you want to listen to the interview the feed can be accessed from here.

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