Family First's Bob McCoskrie supports the irritating ban on Easter shopping. He claims parents and children want to spend more time doing family things like having picnics together. Chance would have been a fine thing. On Friday and Sunday, there was not a bread roll or bottle of pinot noir to be had for anyone wanting to do a bit of impromptu family bonding. Unless, that is, you dug deep and splashed out for a "picnic" at a pub or restaurant.
On Sunday, I had a bit of a brain fade and ducked out "before the lunch-time rush" to grab some laundry detergent and a bottle of wine.
The deserted streets should have been reminder enough. But it took the empty supermarket carpark to remind me what an idiot I'd been. Caught out by an anachronism in our trading laws I've been mocking for years. Then came the drive home past an empty church where, I muttered to myself, a glass of red wine is part of the ritual for the small minority of New Zealanders who still go through the motions of Christian worship.
New Zealand's an increasingly secular country. The 2013 Census recorded 41.9 per cent of us as having no religion - a nearly 8 per cent increase on the 2006 Census, with younger people leading the way. Those identifying with a Christian religion had correspondingly declined in the same period, from 55.6 per cent to 48.9 per cent. Just how many participated in church activity was not asked.
Victoria University religious studies expert Professor Paul Morris says the figure show we're in "new territory", with Christianity losing its central position in society. "Are we no longer a Christian nation? There is a question mark."
This is in line with Massey University research from a few years back which found of the 53 per cent of New Zealanders who believed in a God of any denomination, half of these either had doubts, or believed in God "some of the time but not at others".
Within this context, continuing to bring the nation to an almost complete trading halt for three days a year to mark the three key days in the Christian calendar seems increasingly out of step with reality.
Prime Minister John Key admits he doesn't "think the law is working terribly well" but like a procession of political leaders before him, shies away from the commonsense reforms needed.
Even the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise seems to have wiped its hands of upholding this particular law. In 2007, for example, it prosecuted 45 businesses for trading illegally at Easter. The next four years saw over 30 a year prosecuted. Then in 2013, this dropped to just two. Last year, no one was dragged to court, despite 19 complaints. After investigations, 17 received a warning letter instead.
Since 2013, instead of sending out inspectors to monitor likely offenders - in the past, garden centres have been the main offenders - MBIE has waited for complaints. If a complaint follows an early warning or prosecution, MBIE may prosecute, the maximum penalty being a fine of up to $1000.
In 1980, after a 35-year ban on weekend trading except for "emergency goods", Saturday trading was reintroduced to New Zealand. Ten years later, we got seven days' shopping, except for the three major Christian holy days and Anzac Day morning. But there were exceptions. Some tourist towns, Queenstown and Taupo, could trade on these three days but not Wanaka and Rotorua. Garden shops were closed on Good Friday, but thanks to a 2001 law amendment could open on Easter Sunday. I can buy detergent at the corner dairy, as a purveyor of "essential business", but not at a supermarket.
In all, 11 private members' bills since 1990 have tried to clean up this mess, but only the 2001 one had any success - and that only helped highlight the silliness. We need government action.
This begs the question of why we should give ourselves a public holiday at all to mark a religious high day most of us don't believe in. My answer would be, we pagans were celebrating Easter long before Christians appeared on the scene.
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