12 Mar 2018

Students push for NZ wars public holiday

11:11 pm on 12 March 2018
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Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

School students whose petition led to a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand wars are now asking for a public holiday to mark the occasion.

At the weekend, Ngā Puhi hosted the first major commemorations of the New Zealand wars, or Te Putake o Te Riri, in Northland.

The commemorations came about following a petition created by a group of Otorohanga College students, one of whom spoke at the weekend's events.

Leah Bell said then-Labour leader and now Treaty negotiations minister Andrew Little made a promise to her when she delivered the petition in December 2015 - that the occasion should be marked with a public holiday.

That seemed to come as a surprise to Mr Little's Labour colleagues Kelvin Davis and Willie Jackson.

Mr Little was not at the commemorations but said he heard the weekend was a success.

"Certainly I'm a very strong supporter of the New Zealand wars being properly observed.

"I think as New Zealanders we need to know all the history, including the history Pākehā may be uncomfortable with."

In 2016, Mr Little suggested the day of commemoration could coincide with regional anniversary holidays.

He would discuss the possibility of making the commemorations a public holiday with the Labour caucus, he said today.

"It's not high on the priority list at the moment as we're dealing with the housing crisis, prison crisis and lifting wages and income."

New Zealand wars national committee member Kawhia Muraahi said calls to make the commemorations a public holiday were premature and he could foresee backlash from the business sector.

"Primarily that will come from the employer association and business owners because there is a cost they'd be required by law to carry."

The annual budget for the commemorations $1 million - an amount Kawhia Muraahi described as miniscule.

Unless there was more political will to raise the profile of the New Zealand wars by Māori MPs in government, a national day would struggle to gain traction, he said.

Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene said he supported introducing a public holiday.

"It will accelerate things if it was a national holiday and made people think, why actually am I on holiday?"