26 Aug 2016

Easter trading change leaves councils to 'face the flak'

10:55 am on 26 August 2016

Local councils now have the power decide whether businesses can open in their area on Easter Sunday.

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Wanaka shops have been unable to open on Easter Sunday but shops in Taupo and Queenstown can. Photo: AFP

Parliament yesterday passed legislation on what it acknowledges is a contentious issue, but said allowing councils to decide was a "pragmatic" decision.

However, opposition parties said that was just passing the buck.

Minister of Workplace Relations Michael Woodhouse said it had taken 25 years to get to this point and he was happy with the outcome.

"Local business associations and other organisations may choose not to open even if they are able, so this is flexible, it's sensible and it doesn't compel anybody to do anything."

Labour's MP for Mangere, Su'a William Sio, said the government was just passing the buck.

Labour MP, Su'a William Sio.

Labour's MP for Mangere, Su'a William Sio. Photo: parliament

"They'd rather have the councils face the flak from the communities rather than themselves, and it will be up to the community to continue that fight and I suspect there will be some communities who will feel quite strongly about it and other communities may not.

"So when the government argues this bill will take away the mish-mash of where you have got some centres open on Easter Sunday's and other not, well it won't."

Mr Woodhouse said that was not the case.

"It's completely up to them whether they want to have a consultation process with their ratepayers, there's not compulsion on them so do that, or to agree to one course of action or another, so they are free to choose as well."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick was delighted the legislation had been passed and said Easter trading was likely to be a local election issue, with the district council now free to make decisions on opening times.

Ms Chadwick told Morning Report a poll two years ago found 72 percent of Rotorua residents supported opening on Easter Sunday.

Ms Chadwick says it had been frustrating that the tourist town has been closed on busy Easter weekends while Taupo and Tauranga have been open.

After council elections in October there was likely to be a formal community consultation.

In the past Easter trading has been treated as a conscience issue, but this time National Party MPs were forced to toe the party line and vote to support the change, even if they objected to the bill.

The pressure put on those individual National MPs was raised several times during the debate on the legislation.

A personal vote was taken and the bill passed by 62 to 59.

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