The argument in favour of Monday-ising Waitangi and Anzac Days has nothing to do with the historical significance of the dates and is concerned only with having a day – or two – off work that we were already entitled to. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be dishonest to pretend the debate is about anything more meaningful.
February 6 was the day in 1840 that the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed by Maori chiefs. Similarly, April 25, 1915, saw the fateful landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli. A case might once have been made for different but equally auspicious dates on which to commemorate New Zealand’s history and character, but on that score, the die was cast long ago. February 6 and April 25 are, respectively, now imbued with national significance. Those are the days – and not the nearest Mondays – on which New Zealanders living overseas might pause and think, “at home it’s Waitangi Day”, or “today is Anzac Day” and feel, if only for a moment, the cultural tug of home.
Just because those two dates are special to New Zealanders does not mean they are accorded reverence by everyone. In particular, there are likely to be large numbers of people, and not only among the more than 23% of New Zealand residents who were born overseas, who feel no connection to the conflict and barely repressed violence that has become the unfortunate but potent symbol of Waitangi Day. Many people might prefer, if they had the choice, to go to work and instead take off a day that feels more meaningful, or at least no more meaningless to them personally.
Tempting as that may be, Waitangi Day is what it is: for a few, a day of great passion, for many others, a day to rue a missed opportunity, and for most a day whose significance is ignored and on which they are much more likely to raise a sun umbrella than a flag. Nevertheless, it is valued as a day off in its own right – hence the collective annoyance last year when both it and Anzac Day fell on weekends. New Zealanders were short-changed of two of the 11 public holidays to which they are statutorily entitled, on top of annual leave.
For the Opposition, supporting Monday-ising the two days is a no-brainer. Being on the side of workers is Labour’s home territory. For National, whose natural position is to support employers, Monday-ising the holidays means imposing an extra cost on businesses, and the smaller the business the more disproportionate the weight of each additional cost. The debate, coming as it does during a period of financial austerity (tell that to the Greeks) is awkward for the Government. On one level it is a small enough thing for it to agree to – it is not until 2021 that both days again fall on weekends in the same year. On the other hand, if National supports the bill, businesses will accuse it of bowing to populism at the expense of employers.
Coinciding with the debate, there emerged – from nowhere – the suggestion that ethnic communities should be allowed to choose their own holidays of cultural significance. This suggestion appears to have been entirely created by the media, with some ethnic groups pooh-poohing it and saying the point of their migration was to become Kiwis. That response is laudable. It must sometimes be a struggle to get to grips with New Zealand culture, especially when the biggest discussion over our national day is not the degrading racial abuse of the Minister of Maori Affairs at Waitangi, or the rudeness shown to the Prime Minister there, but whether or not we should have a day off to compensate when it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
It is true that a Monday, February 7, or a Monday, April 26, would have no national significance, but unless the Government is in the mood to snatch back large bones from the neighbour’s badly brought up pitbull-cross dog, then it should agree to Monday-ise Anzac and Waitangi Days. New Zealanders might not be the most productive workers, but they do work some of the longest hours in the OECD and feel they have earned their days off. Last year, they felt they wuz robbed.