Parliament, as it so often does, tried to design a horse with
its legislative provisions controlling private enterprise
during Easter, and instead produced a camel.
There is nothing about the regulations that can in 2010 be
considered just and necessary, let alone reflective of
The creation of geographic exemptions to trading on Good
Friday and Easter Sunday, meaning some places can open their
doors while others must close - backed by farcically small
penalties - is simply unjustly partial.
Legislation which permits gambling and the sale of alcohol in
cafes or restaurants on Easter Sunday but nowhere else is
outdated; permitting petrol stations to sell everything from
food to compact discs and fishing tackle while prohibiting
sales by other retailers is grossly partial.
But there is nothing about Parliament's successive attempts
to remain several steps behind public opinion that gives
confidence matters will improve.
It is hard to believe that the House has been toying
unsuccessfully with shop trading hours for 30 years.
The Muldoon National government passed the legislation in
1980 which provided for shops to be open on Saturdays, and
also broadened the range of heavily restricted goods able to
be sold on Sundays.
The world did not come to a halt as a result; indeed, apart
from the predictable complaints from the unions, the public
in general welcomed the measure, which also signalled the
decade's major social change - the end of the five-day,
40-hour working week.
The former National MP Katherine O'Regan introduced a Bill 16
years later to correct some anomalies in the system, which by
then included retail Sunday trading; it failed to achieve a
desirable result, and still today the problems continue.
Adding fuel to the discontent is the misinterpretation of by
now complex legislation by Labour Department bureaucrats,
giving misleading and downright wrong guidance to retailers
Before 1990, most shops could not trade on any Sunday and
were unable to open on nine of the 11 recognised public
holidays (Easter Sunday is not a designated public holiday
and therefore not subject to holiday pay rates).
Today they can trade on 51 out of 52 Sundays, and on every
public holiday except Good Friday, Christmas Day, and the
morning of Anzac Day.
Seven-day shopping has undoubtedly been very popular, both
with customers and retailers, not to say of benefit to the
The economic argument, however, is often countered by
speculating that if a business cannot be viable on the 361
days of the year that most shops can currently legally open,
then one more day's trade will not add sufficient value to
that business to justify loosening the regulations.
Organised retail workers - or their union bosses - have been
among the most vocal in challenging efforts to open trading
on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, especially the latter,
although staff cannot be forced to work on either day.
The churches and some other organisations have also been
traditionally opposed to the secular world interfering with
the commemoration of Christianity's most important event.
Whether the country is quite ready for a carte blanche
liberalisation of the law, including Good Friday, Easter
Sunday - or even Christmas Day - is certainly doubtful,
though less so than a decade or two ago.
The public has clearly shown by the willingness it has to
empty its wallet or play sport or participate in commercial
recreation and entertainment activities throughout Easter
that it wants to be able to make the choice; many tourists,
both domestic and international, appear still to want to
shop; crafts and farmers' markets appear to have an
unsatisfied demand to meet.
It is time for the matter to be settled and the only way that
will happen is to abandon the so-called "personal vote" in
Parliament and achieve suitable legislation by way of a
Whether John Key's administration has the fortitude to do so,
or is prepared to risk the undoubted wrath of church and
union, is arguable: Mr Key agrees the present regulations are
a shambles and would like them to be liberalised, and he has
voted accordingly in the past.
It is time for a national solution: declaring Easter Sunday
to be a public holiday would protect workers' wage levels,
and sending a Bill to a select committee would ensure public
opinion - more accurately reflecting the times in which we
live rather than electorate pressure on individual MPs -
could be canvassed.
An Anzac Day match on retail hours for Good Friday and Easter
Sunday might well achieve the preferred compromise.