By Don Farmer
Masterton residents will have to wait at least another week before they know whether the curtain has been lifted on Easter Sunday trading.
At a specially convened hearing in Masterton yesterday Masterton District councillors heard six live submissions before deciding to deliberate on the issue with the press and public excluded,
As a result, a recommendation framed behind closed doors at yesterday’s hearing will go to a full council meeting next Wednesday, with a promise by mayor Lyn Patterson that any discussion on the issue at that meeting will be public.
The grounds for going into ‘public excluded’ yesterday was to allow “free and frank discussion”, and took into account three councillors were absent, being Gary Caffell, Graham McClymont and Deb Davidson.
It is normal procedure for hearings recommendations to go before full council for ratification, which most times tends to be a formality, but on issues with such depth of feeling as Easter Trading may not be so.
Councillor Jonathan Hooker, who has chaired many hearings during his time on council stood aside yesterday, instead becoming one of those who spoke up against Easter Sunday trading.
Mr Hooker said the policy the council had developed, but was yet to adopt, and that would allow Easter Sunday trading, did not relate to just normal Sunday retailing.
“This is about the one Sunday of the 3.5 days a year when most shops must remain closed.”
He said it was not about the sale of fuel, basic groceries or dining out, as those outlets were allowed to trade “so you won’t be left starving or stranded”.
The fabric of the family unit had been “eroding in all sorts of ways”.
He said it would be “interesting “for someone to research the correlation between family breakdowns and the decline of the weekend.
Mr Hooker said of the 13 submissions, of a total of 93, which supported Easter Sunday trading, only three had direct links with the retail trade and none of those were from local shop owners.
Shop worker Sue Reid, youth worker Ezra Stobbart, Anglican minister Michael Brantley and Natalie Hopkirk also spoke against the policy.
Mrs Reid said regardless of the law allowing a shop worker to refuse Easter Sunday work, “coercion was the key”.
Workers could be put under pressure to fill roster requirements and once a business opened there was pressure on other businesses to also decide to open.
Mrs Reid said Easter-time was a “strong part of our social fabric”, and as an advocate for quality family time she felt it was extremely important for families to have time together, as well as time to rest.
The sole policy supporter to front up and speak to his submission yesterday was Colin Shand, a former inspector and policy and development manager with the Department of Labour who also had five years employed as a manager in Parliament before retiring.
Mr Shand said he was approaching the issue from a legislative viewpoint rather than a business or religious one.
If the council passed a by-law freeing up Easter Sunday trading within Masterton “it will remove the need for enforcement, penalties and prosecution of our shopkeepers”.
He said only five MPs who were part of the 1987 Parliament that passed the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990 remained in Parliament.
“So there is no Parliamentary support for continuing to restrict shops from trading on Easter Sunday.
“Easter Sunday is not even a statutory holiday and yet shops can freely trade on nine of the 12 other statutory holidays.”
Mr Shand said Parliament was allowing the council to pass a by-law so retailers could decide for themselves whether or not to open based on commercial reasons.
The only town in Wairarapa with “large stores and supermarkets” is Masterton.
“If other Wairarapa councils pass a law for their small shops and you don’t, you will look pretty stupid.”
He questioned how government would view Masterton District Council if it rejected the opportunity to free-up local trade “and bring it into the modern era”.
“We could be viewed as a bunch of hicks in a backyard province, unworthy of investment.”