Wellington: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resumed campaigning in New Zealand’s virus-delayed general election Monday with an attention-grabbing promise to make the Maori New Year a public holiday.
Electioneering had barely started last month when a sudden COVID-19 outbreak forced Auckland into lockdown and brought a temporary halt to campaign activities.
Ardern ended up delaying the election by four weeks to October 17 so her government could focus on containing the Auckland infections, which ended 102 days without community transmission of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
With lockdown now over in New Zealand’s largest city, Ardern kick-started her Labour party’s renewed campaign with a pledge to make Matariki, the Maori new year, a public holiday from 2022.
“As I’ve travelled around New Zealand I’ve heard the calls for Matariki to become a public holiday - its time has come,” she said.
Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis, who has a Maori background, said a Matariki holiday sent an important message to New Zealand’s indigenous people, who comprise less than 20 per cent of the country’s population but are central to its national identity.
“Making Matariki a public holiday is another step forward in our partnership as a people and a further recognition of te ao Maori (the Maori worldview) in our public life,” he said.
Ardern said Matariki - which usually falls in mid-winter July - would help stimulate the economy by driving up spending.
“We don’t have many statutory holidays compared to other OECD countries and it would be good to break up the long run through winter,” she said.
The youthful leader retains a commanding lead in opinion polls and is expected to win a second term for her centre-left government.
The most recent poll released last week by Roy Morgan Research had Ardern’s Labour Party on 48 per cent, 19.5 points ahead of the main opposition National Party.
The 39-year-old retains a shot at ruling in her own right - without support from minor party coalition partners the Greens and New Zealand First that she needed during her first term.
However, Labour’s support has slipped from the record 60 per cent reached in July after the Auckland virus outbreak gave her opponents ammunition to criticise border control shortfalls.
The National Party said Ardern’s priority should be on creating jobs to ease the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, not announcing new holidays.
“The issue is that it is another public holiday that businesses have to pay for,” party leader Judith Collins said.