Editorial: Just sort out the Easter anomalies

All power to the Marlborough District Council in its bid to pressure the Government to change the archaic and absurd laws around Easter trading - even if no one will be holding their breath.

The anomalies are many, and highlighted at this time every year. Perhaps the most glaring example is Wanaka where, despite many thousands of visitors drawn by the Warbirds event, the shops must be shut on Easter Friday and Sunday.

Ninety minutes down the road, at another tourism mecca, Queenstown, the shops will have been doing a roaring trade, without the sky falling in or any other obvious consequences.

Queenstown's ability to trade was cemented in law in 1986 by the Shop Trading Hours Commission. Neither Wanaka, Blenheim nor Nelson for that matter, if it were so inclined, can apply for a similar exemption because the commission was shut down following a repeal of the law 14 years ago. How sensible and reasonable is that?

Another head-scratcher is the treatment of Easter Sunday. It is accorded similar status under the Shop Trading Hours Act (1977) to Easter Friday - yet it is not even accorded penal rate status under the Holidays Act.

That "privilege" is granted, however, to those working on Easter Monday, which is a day of much less significance to Christians than the Sunday. Go figure.

Weird, too, that you can catch a movie, Super 15 rugby or national league basketball game on Good Friday but not buy a bottle of milk from a supermarket or a vege plant from a nursery on either the Friday or Sunday. Nothing adds up.

Various attempts have been made, unsuccessfully, to run a deep-toothed comb through the bureaucratic tangles, but our politicians have seemed two weak-kneed to introduce even a shallow comb-over.

Presumably they would rather remain responsible for an illogical, unfair, unproductive and old-fashioned system than introduce reform out of fear of upsetting the Christian community.

However, this cuts across our nation's status as a secular nation. Religious and democratic structures, rightly, are separate, and in legislation and policy the state is charged with respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Consistency with that over-riding human rights principle should mean retailers have the freedom to open if and when they wish without being bound by the wishes of certain religious institutions.

After all, New Zealand is increasingly multicultural, and no attempts by the state are made to impose trading or other restrictions out of deference to our many Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu citizens.

Politicians should also bear in mind that, according to the latest Census, only half of our population now sees itself as "Christian". MPs rejected the last attempt to tidy up Easter trading in 2012. Why is this such a hard nut to crack?