Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Councils can now allow Easter Sunday trading

Councils can now decide to allow Easter Sunday trading - despite public opposition from David Tua. New Zealand Herald Photo by Nick Reed.
Councils can now decide to allow Easter Sunday trading - despite public opposition from David Tua. New Zealand Herald Photo by Nick Reed.

It's now over to councils to decide whether shops can open on Easter Sunday after controversial legislation passed into law amidst heated debate.

That is despite public calls from New Zealand sporting greats David Tua and Michael Jones for Pacific MPs to oppose the change.

Tua flew to Wellington to speak to media shortly before the final vote, flanked by Labour's Pacific MPs.

"I think Easter Sunday needs to be protected. As a young boy growing up in South Auckland Easter Sunday, you looked forward to it - to spending it with your family, you go to church, and you have a good lunch," Tua said.

National's Pacific MPs needed to be "courageous" and defy their party and vote down the law change "for our families", the boxer said.

Last week rugby great Michael Jones - a devout Christian who has links to the National Party - also went public with a similar call.

However, all National Party members voted for the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill, which will allow councils to pass bylaws to allow trading on Easter Sunday and passed its third and final reading by 62 to 59 personal votes today.

Such bills are traditionally a conscience vote for MPs, but National MPs voted together for change.

The only disgraceful and abhorrent behaviour I have seen in the House so far is members of the Labour Party, in a self-righteous, pious way, using religious affiliation, using ethnic identity to bully other members of Parliament.
National MP Jami-Lee Ross

In her speech, Labour MP Poto Williams said she felt distress for National's Sam Lotu-Iiga and Alfred Ngaro.

"I ask them - please examine the depth of your faith. Examine your conscience and vote with us. Cross the floor and vote with us. Do not deny that this is a problem for you and the Pacific communities."

Labour MP and Mangere MP Su'a William Sio said many voters would see National MPs who voted for the law against their own belief, as being "prepared to sell their values and principles".

"That is how Pacific peoples are seeing certain members of that Government because of the way they will vote on this issue."

National and Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross said it was deeply disappointing for Labour MPs to try and "bully" other MPs.

"The only disgraceful and abhorrent behaviour I have seen in the House so far is members of the Labour Party, in a self-righteous, pious way, using religious affiliation, using ethnic identity to bully other members of Parliament."

National MP Simon O'Connor, a Catholic, said his colleagues had not been whipped to vote a certain way.

"For all the vitriol and rhetoric from the other side about what we are doing as a bloc, I noticed in second reading that not one Labour Party member voted against the whole group."

The fierce debate saw Labour MP Sue Moroney kicked out of the House after calling Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse "gutless", and repeating the word after being asked to withdraw and apologise.

The Government said a law change was needed because current regulations are complex and relatively arbitrary.

Historically, the law allowed some exemptions, which meant shops in tourist hotspots like Queenstown and Taupo were open, but not those in popular Wanaka and Rotorua. However, many businesses in those towns choose to open and risk prosecution.

Woodhouse said the bill put choice in the hands of communities.

"The question of whether to allow shop trading over the Easter period is a contentious one, considered by this House on numerous occasions...the Government wants to resolve this perennial issue and this bill provides a pragmatic solution."

Labour and the Green Party argued the change should be decided at a national level, and it was inappropriate to give councils the responsibility.

They also said the protections in the bill that would allow retail workers to decline work without negative consequences were unlikely to be effective.

Green Party MP Mojo Mathers questioned whether today's law change would eventually lead to shop trading on other holidays including Christmas.

New Zealand First opposed the changes, and argued local elections can be used for a local referendum on whether to liberalise local trading hours further.

In its submission on the changes, Retail NZ supported trading on Easter Sunday, but said leaving the decision to councils could result in 67 local authorities having 67 sets of rules. The lobby group was particularly concerned that councils will be able to make rules for all or part of their district.

- NZ Herald

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