Monday, 6 February 2017

We don't need a New Zealand Day

Over the years I've changed my mind on the whole "New Zealand Day" thing. Originally I was for going back to the pre-1976 name for Waitangi Day, New Zealand Day as created by Norman Kirk (right, at the first New Zealand Day, 1973). I've since become convinced though that going back to New Zealand Day is counter-productive and would take emphasis away from the Treaty of Waitangi. And anyway, should our "national" day be an agreement between Maori and the British Crown, especially when we can't decide what it means.

I then took the view that a different day could be found, possibly 26 September (at one time Dominion Day) but that had its own colonial connotation and would mean another public holiday for a country with already sluggish productivity growth. My suggested alternative was to abolish Queen's Birthday so there was no loss in productivity - and of course get rid of what has to be our most bizarre public holiday (it's not even the Queen's birthday, the date was chosen because it falls when the weather is good - in England).

A New Zealand Day in September? We could have New Zealand Day honours (replacing Queen's birthday honours) while preserving a special day for the Treaty. Sounds like a win-win. I've now come to the view that we don't need a "New Zealand" Day. In the context of an often ugly resurgent nativist nationalism around the world, the worst thing we could do is to stoke that in any way. I'm a civic nationalist, a "New Zealand" Day in itself separate from Waitangi Day will no doubt become a touchstone for the sort of simplistic ethnonationalism I reject. It's pretty obvious that is what has happened with the originally well-meaning Australia Day. Why would we want to copy that?

Instead, we should have a day with more substantive meaning. Instead of recycling old colonial era holidays, a day that draws on Maori, Pakeha and all other Kiwis with our commitment to this country. To my mind, there's an obvious candidate: Republic Day!

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