Monday, April 30, 2007

Kill the Bills

The brouhaha over Sue Bradford’s child discipline Bill has overshadowed another looming conscience vote of great significance. National MP Jacqui Dean and Labour MP Steve Chadwick have each produced Bills that seek to dismember Easter trading restrictions. Both Bills, having been delayed by the Bradford Bill , are coming up for Second Readings in the House. For an outline of the legislative process to date (and a little commentary to boot), read Sue Bradford's speech to the House here.

The two Bills are each slightly different. Essentially Dean’s Bill allows for all shops to trade on Easter Friday and Sunday. Steve Chadwick’s Bill, tailored more for tourist towns like her own Rotorua, allows for Territorial Authorities to decide whether trading on these days will be permissible. While Chadwick’s Bill is the lesser of two evils, both are obnoxious pieces of legislation that ought to be rejected.

There are currently just 3.5 days per year on which trading is restricted (Easter Friday, Easter Sunday, Anzac morning, and Christmas Day). These 3.5 days represent small islands of quality time away from the pressures of work and consumerism. New Zealanders currently work some of the longest hours in the OECD, and with an increasing trend towards unpredictable casual and rotational work, and longer opening hours, many hundreds of thousands of New Zealand workers, particularly in retail, are truly starved of time with family and friends.

These remaining protected days allow our communities to come together to do the things that help knit us together – to commune around a BBQ, to attend Church (if that’s your thing), to enjoy a long weekend away from home, or simply for everyone to be together at home with no pressure to work and no pressure to buy.

The Anglican Archbishops have issued a thoughtful statement against the Bills in which they identify an absolutist market philosophy as being at the heart of the Bills, and question “Are we simply consumers, running like hamsters on a wheel in a marketplace, or is there more to us than this?"

I believe that this issue is one of conflicting rights. Is the unfettered right to buy goods and make money more important that the right of New Zealanders to spend quality time together in our communities? Both Bill’s, shamefully, support the first proposition. There should also be no mistake about the intentions of those in industry who have driven the Bill. Once the principle is established that trading on Easter Friday and Sunday is OK, then why would Anzac morning and Christmas Day be any different?

However, all is not lost! For an Anglican trade unionist such as myself, the Bills have provoked a dream coalition of Churches and Unions to come together to protect the Easter Holidays. Labour MP’s Darien Fenton and Mark Gosche are involved, as is United Future’s Gordon Copeland. Both the Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Anglican Social Justice Commission have swung in behind, while the NDU, as the union for retail workers, has been campaigning hard on the issue for months.

One of the key initiatives of this coalition of Churches and Unions is a nationwide petition. Slightly frustratingly, it is as yet unavailable online, although this is being worked on. For those of us with an interest in the ability for the Progressive Christian community to engage and organise with the broader progressive community, this joint campaign could serve as a real model for future co-operation on social justice issues.

Anyone who wants petitions should feel free to contact me. You can also send an e-mail direct to targetted MP’s from the NDU website.