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Labour's Promise For Matariki Public Holiday 'Really Significant' - Dr Rangi Mātāmua

A Labour Party promise to make Matariki a public holiday from 2022 if re-elected has got many in te ao Māori excited, including one man who has dedicated his life to sharing his traditional knowledge about the star cluster.

But advocates for businesses that are already struggling to keep their staff employed during the Covid-19 crisis say the idea is absolutely the wrong move.

The rising of Matariki, or the star cluster known as Pleiades, usually near the end of June and the beginning of July marks the Māori New Year.

It has traditionally been celebrated by gathering with whānau, remembering the dead, and planning for the year ahead.

Māori astronomer and University of Waikato professor Dr Rangi Mātāmua has spent much of his life learning about the star cluster from a 400-page manuscript written by his ancestors, and sharing that knowledge with anyone who will listen.

He said the Labour Party's pledge to make Matariki a public holiday was huge.

"It's unique and special to who and where we are in the world and to be able to incorporate that as part of our nationhood and as part of our collective identify is really significant."

He said public holidays said a lot about what a country valued - and it was about time a celebration unique to Aotearoa had finally been given the value it deserved.

"We've imported celebrations - Christmas, Easter, Labour Day, Queen's Birthday and yet a lot of the celebrations here, that are unique, were put aside."

He was not the only one excited about the prospect.

Laura O'Connell-Rapira, from lobby group Action Station, created a petition calling for the public holiday in June and had since received nearly 35,000 signatures in support.

"I think that the real value for Aotearoa in this public holiday is the ability for communities to come together and get a better understanding of indigenous science and spirituality," she said.

"One way that the government can help make that happen is to ensure guaranteed funding towards iwi, kaupapa Maori organizations, whānau and hapū to run community events and education to help people understand what it actually means."

The Labour Party says if it re-elected it will consult with Matariki experts to determine an exact date for the winter holiday, and develop a series of tools and events across the country.

Meanwhile, Employers and Manufacturers Association's head of advocacy and strategy, Alan McDonald, said the policy was extremely disappointing.

He said businesses were already under enough strain to pay their employees due to Covid-19, and already had plenty of public holidays.

"Celebrating Matariki is probably a good thing and I'm sure employees will welcome an extra public holiday but it's not likely to find much favour with employers because we are already well serviced with public holidays and leave and all those things build up," he said.

"Rather than add an additional holiday we could have replaced one of the old ones ... something like Queen's Birthday weekend or Labour weekend."

The Labour Party says the public holiday would start from 2022 in order to give businesses time to recover from Covid-19.

The last public holiday introduced was Waitangi Day, nearly 50 years ago.

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