Christopher Luxon confirms National will keep Labour Day and Matariki holiday if elected in 2023 despite 'cancel' comments

Christopher Luxon has confirmed National will keep the new Matariki holiday if elected in 2023, as well as Labour Day, despite a previous suggestion to "cancel" it. 

Luxon told RNZ on Wednesday that with the new Matariki public holiday estimated to cost $450 million, at a time when businesses are grappling with record inflation, it would be better to replace an existing holiday

"Look, it's a great idea, but which of the other holidays are you going to cancel?" Luxon asked. "We're very supportive of Matariki; why don't you cancel Labour Day?" 

Luxon's comments were met with fierce criticism from Labour's Michael Wood, who set aside his ministerial hat for a moment to send out a Labour Party branded press release attacking Luxon's proposal. 

"Mr Luxon has shown how out of touch he is with Kiwi families who need a break between Queen's Birthday and Christmas," Wood, who is Minister for Workplace Relations, said. 

"Tourism, hospitality and small towns across New Zealand rely on our public holidays for increased visitors and customers. Labour Day helps them prepare for the busy summer season."

Craig Renney, director of policy at the Council of Trade Unions, also described Luxon as out of touch over his suggestion. 

"New Zealanders already work longer hours than the OECD average - equivalent to 15 extra days at work each year. We already have fewer public holidays than many other OECD countries," Renney said. 

"Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day, won in New Zealand in 1840. It was first celebrated in 1890. It's not surprising that National wants to get rid of a long-standing public holiday that celebrates workers' rights.

"It shows how little National thinks of the daily struggles of Kiwi workers. It would also leave workers with no public holiday in the six months between June and Christmas."

National has confirmed to Newshub it will not cancel either public holiday.

"National, if elected, will keep all public holidays, those two included," a spokesperson said. 

It came after Luxon seemed to walk back his earlier statements in a press conference with media on Thursday. 

"The point I was trying to make yesterday is, once a public holiday is passed, we ain't unwinding a public holiday. Just to be clear about that," Luxon told reporters.

"But as that public holiday is being created through legislation in the Parliament, it's quite right to ask the question now, because we won't get a chance to do it later, is, do we want to add $450 million of extra cost to businesses in New Zealand?

"Because when you do that, they have to pass that through with higher prices, which drives through to inflation at a time when you have record-high inflation and a cost of living crisis."

Luxon, when asked if it was wise to make a joke about it on the radio, said he "wasn't joking". 

"What I was saying very clearly and what we've been saying, is the Bill has been going through the House of Parliament, is this actually an expenditure we want to be passing through? Because now's the time to ask the question. 

"Once it's passed, we're not unwinding a public holiday."

The Matariki Public Holiday Bill passed its final reading in Parliament earlier this month without the support of National or ACT.

ACT has pledged to scrap the new Matariki holiday or another public holiday in its place. ACT proposed Matariki should replace Labour Day back in September 2020.

The first Matariki public holiday will be held on June 24. 

It's not the first time National has come under fire over comments on Matariki. MP Simon O'Connor questioned the name of the new holiday, marking the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar, over concerns about "respecting cultural diversity".