Queen Elizabeth's death: Why NZ's public holiday isn't on same day as UK funeral

  • 16/09/2022

Labour's Carmel Sepuloni says New Zealand's public holiday to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II isn't being held on the same day as the formal funeral in the United Kingdom as the Governor-General won't be in the country.

The Prime Minister earlier this week announced Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Day will be held on Monday, September 26, the same day as New Zealand's State Memorial Service. The one-off public holiday is intended to allow Kiwis to "both mark her death and celebrate her life".

"I know many people will want the opportunity to pay their respects and the public holiday offers communities around the country the ability to come together and pay tribute at local events also," Jacinda Ardern said.

However, the date set down for New Zealand's holiday is a week after the Queen's formal funeral in London next Monday. The United Kingdom and Canada are both holding their day off on the same day as the funeral, while Australia is holding its public holiday next Thursday to coincide with a state service.

Sepuloni, a Labour minister, told AM Cabinet did discuss what date to hold the holiday.

"We thought it was important that our Governor-General was back. She doesn't arrive back until Friday next week," she said. "Flights are pretty difficult at the moment.

"Only a couple of days later the Prime Minister arrives back, so it seemed right to do it on a Monday and so that's it. It's just basically being practical with regards to the leadership that we think needs to be there."

Ardern and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro are both in London for the Queen's funeral on Monday. Following the event, Ardern will travel to New York for the United Nations General Assembly week. She has a packed programme for the week meeting with Kiwis in the city as well as other world leaders.

Having a public holiday for the Queen has been welcomed by some, including workers' unions, but criticised by others, including various business groups. 

Those in favour of the day off say it is appropriate to have a day away from work to remember someone who served as New Zealand's Head of State for 70 years, but those against it say it's just another cost to businesses during a cost of living crisis and after the Matariki holiday was introduced in June.

The National Party, which opposed having a new holiday each year for Matariki, is in favour of marking the Queen's death with a day off. 

MP Erica Stanford denied that was an inconsistent position. 

"It's a one-off, incredibly special event where our Head of State has passed away after 70 years. I think on balance, commemorating that, that incredibly long period of service to our country and others, is really important," she said.

"When we were talking about Matariki, it wasn't that we shouldn't have it. I think our position was that maybe we should switch it to another one to balance out that economic issue that we were talking about. But here, it's a very significant event."

Sepuloni pointed out Hospitality NZ has come out in support of the day off. 

"We know every public holiday comes at a cost for hospitality and accommodation businesses due to having to pay penalty rates, but we believe this one-off day is worth it," Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said.

"She had a very positive effect on New Zealand and leaves a tremendous legacy. She really stepped up and gave our country devoted service and it would be great if we can use this day as an opportunity to remember that and to thank her."

Sepuloni said the holiday will happen when the Governor-General is in NZ.
Sepuloni said the holiday will happen when the Governor-General is in NZ. Photo credit: Newshub.

Stanford, who is the National Party's Immigration spokesperson, mentioned her party is calling for the Government to loosen some immigration settings to allow more migrant workers into the country.

"I tell you what, if you wanted to balance out some of the economic carnage, then just let people in the country, open up those pathways to residence and get workers in the country."

The ACT Party has opposed the holiday, saying businesses shouldn't be paying for "pageantry" during a cost of living crisis. 

"New Zealanders are feeling the loss of the Queen, she was a true leader who selflessly served the Commonwealth every day of her life. The Government should be asking itself, though, is it fair to put another $450 million of costs onto business in the middle of a cost of living crisis?" said leader David Seymour.

"Treasury estimate an extra public holiday costs $450 million. We doubt the Queen, who was famous for being a careful spender, would endorse such extravagance when people are struggling to make ends meet."

The $450 million figure comes from estimates about how much Matariki would cost businesses. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said it doesn't take into account the money people would spend while out in the community on the day.

On Monday, Ardern said there would be no trade restrictions on the public holiday. 

There has been some concern about potential disruption to planned health procedures on the day, but Ardern said Monday is thought to have the "least planned care occurring". 

"Hospitals, as I understand, will be canvassing whether or not they will continue to have workers who will choose to still work or whether or not that will lead to cancellations. So we were mindful of that."