David Seymour says he was jesting in 2018 when he suggested the Government telling people how to use their annual leave was a sign of a "fascist state".
The Labour Party announced on Monday that if it is re-elected following October's election, it would create a new public holiday to celebrate Matariki, the start of the Māori New Year. It would be New Zealand's 12th statutory holiday, which Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern said was fewer than many other OECD countries.
Following that announcement, an article was shared from June 2018 when there were calls for a national Matariki holiday.
In it, the Act Party leader spoke about how Government-recognised public holidays were emblematic of a "fascist state" as people were told when to take time off and recognise something important to them.
"I don't think the Government needs to tell people when to have a holiday and when to celebrate things," Seymour said at the time.
"I certainly don't think that we should be rushing to introduce new holidays such as Matariki. We live in a society of people who can make their own choices."
He said if Kiwis want to celebrate events or other moments of the year significant to them, then they be free to, but using their own annual leave if they desire.
"I'm not into the Government telling people how to use their annual leave. What is this, a fascist state?"
Seymour told Newshub on Monday night that "clearly, the comment was made in jest".
"It resonated because people can see that it's an example of the Government dictating to businesses and workers."
On public or 'statutory' holidays, people are entitled to a full paid day off. If they are working, they must be given an alternative day as well as being paid time and a half on the holiday.
Seymour said offering up a holiday to voters was "cynical, superficial, populist and it treats voters like kids".
"The Government needs to start treating New Zealanders like adults. The only way the economy is going to recover from COVID-19 is if businesses and workers are free to make their own decisions.
"Another public holiday is a new tax on business – it will cost about $220 million. We should be supporting innovators and job creators to rebuild our economy, not piling on new costs."
Labour says the holiday wouldn't come into effect until 2022.
"A new holiday will help out our domestic tourism and hospitality sector as New Zealanders plan mid-winter getaways and will also allow the tourism industry to market Matariki globally to international travellers as a uniquely New Zealand winter experience in years to come," deputy leader Kelvin Davis said.
"Celebrating Matariki every year will give Māori a chance to share our unique traditions, our history and our stories with the rest of New Zealand. Matariki means many things to many people – but for me it will always be a day where I will reflect on how far we have come as a country and be proud."
Several figures, like academic Dr Ella Henry and Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki, have welcomed the policy.
"I absolutely applaud the idea of turning it into a statutory public holiday because it is something unique and distinctive to this country. You look at other nations around the world that celebrate their national identity and heritage with special days and they are an important part of who and what we are. It differentiates us," said Dr Henry.
But they also recognise the potential impact it could have on the economy, questioning whether a current public holiday - such as Queen's Birthday or the provincial anniversary holidays - could be taken away in exchange.