Editorial: Nothing leisurely about public holiday rift

It’s on again. The heated debate you would not have thought possible in Australia. The rancorous and passionate division over a public holiday. Maybe it is the indicator that Australia is no longer the land of the long weekend that an extra public holiday is the cause of so much controversy.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has come out swinging with a survey suggesting 87 per cent of businesses don't support the new public holiday, mostly because they have to pay staff penalty rates.

Then the state opposition joined the fray, reconfirming the idea the holiday is hurting part-time employees who risk having their hours cut.

Last year across regional Victoria there was a big question mark over wither a Grand Final Eve holiday is of any value to regional cities when the big events are all in Melbourne. The government countered that the extra-long weekend will prove a boon for regional areas as people take the time to get out of Melbourne and spend money elsewhere.

This week the Victorian government lost no time in hitting back at the VECCI objections and chose the safe ground that everyone loves a holiday and it serves the regions well because the three-day weekend let people consider taking a trip as well

Acting Premier and Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan, who must have felt the same objections in her home town of Bendigo was keen to emphasise the success of last year’s first holiday, the benefit to the regions and that the holiday was "here to stay".

They are right in this much. It would be fair to say that once it is embedded in the calendar it will become a thing of habit and the general public will view with deep suspicion and resentment the attempts to pluck away a holiday. The last person to do that was when Jeff Kennett removed the show holiday in Melbourne.

But before that time, if there is to be a real debate over the relative cost and benefits, it would be helpful and interesting to see the real figures of how many extra visitors come to regional cities, how much they spend and conversely how many businesses profit from it, or whether they simply shut up in fear of penalties.

That information, rather than a simplistic opinion survey, might go some way to informing the economic debate. As for the sheer pleasure and social good to the general populace of a long weekend, that will be much harder to evaluate.

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