Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Fun in the sun mocks respect

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For many people, the Waitangi Day holiday means a trip to the beach. Photo / Paul Estcourt
For many people, the Waitangi Day holiday means a trip to the beach. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Our public holidays are an odd assortment. We have four days off to honour a religion professed by about half the population. One is to salute the birthday of an aloof head of state - the sort of thing you'd be likely to associate with North Korea these days. One is to honour an outmoded aspect of industrial relations. One is to commemorate an imperialist military catastrophe. And two are to salute our national and regional origins.

So it's any excuse for a holiday, it appears. And although United Future leader Peter Dunne has never presented himself as much of a party animal, it is his vote that has ensured a bill to make Anzac Day and Waitangi Day into Monday public holidays when they fall on Saturday or Sunday will chew up Parliamentary budgets and time.

Of all the things we could spend time and thought on, I would have expected this to rate somewhere between reintroducing prohibition and proclaiming the panda our national bear.

Given the number of self-employed people this doesn't affect because they have to work every hour available to them, the number of unemployed people it doesn't affect because they don't have jobs, and the number of employed people it doesn't affect because their jobs require them to work every day regardless, it's hard to see whose life will be better or worse whichever way the vote goes.

But there is one very good reason for not Monday-ising two days in particular: Anzac Day is a solemn and serious commemoration of sacrifice that affects us all, and Waitangi Day is the most important anniversary because it celebrates the bicultural origins of our nation, something of which we can all be truly proud.

Using them as an excuse for a holiday cheapens them. If you really care about these two occasions then you won't need a day off work to pay tribute.

I sympathise with a couple who felt that their child's human rights were infringed by compulsory teaching of te reo Maori.

When I was at secondary school and obliged to study maths through to my final year, it was regarded by many who knew me as a crime against humanity. So I feel their pain, but I disagree entirely with their viewpoint. Teaching a second language is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our kids. Nothing else quite exercises the brain so effectively. And proficiency in a second language has been shown to increase skill in a first language.

That being understood, it falls to us to decide what second language young New Zealanders would be best to learn.

In Europe and Asia, where the teaching of a second language is taken for granted, there is no question. English, the world's most widely spoken tongue, is the obvious choice.

That's obviously not a consideration here. Sage souls used to advocate teaching Japanese or Chinese, because these would have enormous commercial benefit. But the Chinese and Japanese got in first and learn English.

If we are to teach a second language, te reo Maori is the obvious choice.

It is the native language of this country and if it is not preserved here it will cease to exist and with it will go not just a unique part of our culture but the knowledge contained in the words which we use every day - the names of places, flora and fauna - plus its rich tradition of poetry and song.

- Herald on Sunday

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