One of the unfortunate things about government in New Zealand is the low turnout in
local body elections. 

All the indications are that the turnout for this month’s elections tested record low percentages.

That is a shame for many reasons, not least what it says about local democracy, and the health of the body politic.

But it is even more of a shame for Christians. That shame should be felt more keenly this year.

That is because Parliament has allowed local councils to pass bylaws to allow trading on Easter Sunday in part or all of their districts.

The Shop Trading Hours Amendment Act, which passed by a vote of 62-59, brought in this change. The Act gives workers the right to refuse to work on this day without having to give a reason.

But churches and unions have pointed out that all sorts of pressures, often unspoken, can be put on workers to work on this day.

The desirability of keeping Easter Sunday as a family day for many has also been pointed out, as has the day’s religious significance.

For many Christians, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day are the two days in the year when they do actually attend services. Having subtle pressures to work or inducements to go shopping on one of these days could well have an impact on numbers at services.

So Christians ought to be concerned about how their local council candidates propose
to vote on the issue, should they be elected.

No doubt many Christians are. But it is highly likely that the “no vote” majority of voters for local body elections included a significant number of people of faith.

Moreover, it is not good democracy when local body candidates, with a few honourable exceptions, have been able to scuttle for cover on the issue of Easter Sunday trading, seemingly without consequence.

Retail NZ sent a national survey to about 1500 candidates asking if they were in favour of the law change. Only 314 responded and, of these, 78 per cent were in favour. The respondents were not even named in reports.

Attempts by some local media to ascertain the voting intentions of candidates have variously been met by a high rate of mute responses.

What sort of democracy is it when candidates for office don’t even respond to questions about an issue like this, before an election? That is a dangerous sign.

It is doubly not good for democracy when scuttling for cover by politicians gets an electoral shrug of the shoulders from many voters.

Writing in First Things in May, commentator George Weigel lamented the fact that American political culture is “sick”. He came to this conclusion after the emergence of the two leading candidates for election as US president in November.

Mr Weigel decried the “reduction of voting to a visceral exercise in anger-management, identity politics, or class resentment”. He went on to note that if the political culture is sick, then that has something to do with the state of the culture as a whole.

“Did we really imagine that a culture of self-absorption and vulgarity, taking its cues from the passions of adolescence, was not going to cash out in our politics? If so, let’s hope that we’ve been disabused of that fallacy.”

One wonders what aspects of New Zealand’s culture as a whole are being “cashed out” in our political culture.

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