OPINION: Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean has joined the host of reformers who have failed to roll away the stone that blocks Easter trading – albeit with a host of inconsistencies – around New Zealand.
It's a shame, preserving at it does a mess of a law which means that some tourist centres like Queenstown are treated as spiritual shrines to Mammon which can open, whereas others, like Wanaka, may not.
The fact that Easter is one of the biggest trading weekends of the year for Wanaka seems to matter not a whole hell of a lot.
Meanwhile, dairies, petrol stations and pharmacies open with impunity whereas garden centres have famously been carrying out their illicit trade in shrubs, tubs and garden gnomes at their own legal risk.
Labour Department officers visited 64 shops throughout the country this Easter and found 41 open. Judges, certainly in the south, have not been best pleased when presented with the task of throwing the book at booksellers and their ilk. It's not unheard of for judges to, in effect, decline to do so.
And yet so many of our lawmakers are capable of regarding this jumble and concluding "problem, what problem?"
They defend their inertia as staunch protection of days off at Easter so retail workers get to spend time with their families.
Yes sir, they're ensuring that come Easter people can go home and party like it's 1962.
Which it isn't.
In some respects the argument against Ms Dean's bill is a reheat of the argument against weekend trading.
She is adamant that her bill was all about fair choice. She says shops would not have been forced to open and that retailers were content they would have no trouble finding willing workers to staff them.
Unions, however, regard this view as deluded and say that, in practice, there won't be a real choice and that people will be trudging back to work far from happily, essentially because their bosses would require them to do it. The staffers would either feel they cannot resist, or that it just isn't worth it.
And with that, we would see further undermining of the true character of Easter as a time for family gatherings, school reunions, sports tournaments and festivals.
Clearly that's the view taken by Labour, Greens, NZ First and Maori Party MPs, as well as some National MPs. (The gainsaying Nats are not breaking ranks, because this is designated a conscience vote).
The protectionists are simply too fearful for the fragility of Easter.
The holiday is not reliant on giddily inconsistent legislative protection to survive.
It will do so because people are capable of ordering their lives and setting their priorities to make sure it does.
Ms Dean says she will now retreat and lick her wounds. The issue will keep coming back. It keeps doing that – so many times that it is hard to pin down an exact number of failed bills, but it tops a dozen anyway.
And one day this bill, too, shall come to pass. When it does, the sky won't fall.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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