(Picture: the Breakfast Creek Hotel, a Brisbane pub that wasn't open today)
Though it was a 28 degree scorcher of a public holiday in Brisbane today, there was little chance of being able to quench your thirst with a beer. Because here as in the rest of Australia, the pubs were shut for Good Friday. But why should shops and pubs shut for a Christian festival? This is a quaint practice retained from the days that Australia was a Christian country but those times have long since past. The census is showing Christianity declining as a force in Australian society with just 64 per cent of the population (down from 71 per cent in 1996) calling themselves Christians in 2007. It is surely time to remove this archaic custom.
Meanwhile, the Australian Retailers Association believes the shops should also remain open on the day. They have asked the Federal Government to take the lead in deregulating shopping hours at Easter across the country. They say ambiguous and inconsistent state laws are hurting national chains, franchises and consumers. While the laws have been liberalised in the ACT (where there are no restrictions) and Tasmania (where they still close on Good Friday), laws elsewhere remain stuck in a mid century timewarp. WA is particularly regressive with shops shut throughout Easter except Saturday.
Adelaide businesses are pushing hard to liberalise their laws ahead of the Rugby World Sevens tournament to be held there next Easter. Rugby bosses also want the Good Friday laws relaxed. But vested interests are speaking up determined to keep the status quo. The Catholic Church has warned that opening on Good Friday for shop and hotel trading would destroy a tradition they describe as “deeply embedded in the South Australian psyche”. The Church's Monsignor David Cappo says the day is a holiday, a rest day and a highly religious day for an enormous number of South Australians which needs to be treated with respect. "I would urge very strong caution about such a fundamental change to Easter,” he said. “Good Friday is such a powerful day, it is about the death of Christ."
Britain has begun the process of open trading on Good Friday. High street betting shops are the latest to open today for the first time on Good Friday. Bookmakers reckon thousands of shops will be operating, even though there will be no racing taking place today. Church groups are angry, saying the opening showed a lack of respect for the day of Christ's crucifixion. The Church of England said it was part of a gradual trend to remove the shared holidays that "help create a rhythm for the nation's life".
This point was also picked up by the Daily Telegraph opinion writer who said that a liberalised trading has led to rampant commercialism. While the writer acknowledged that previously Good Friday was stupefyingly dull, he or she (the writer’s name is not identified in the article) is not convinced the replacement is any better. “Instead of it being a day for churchgoing, Good Friday now marks the start of the Easter sales frenzy,” said the Telegraph. “It's as bad as any Bank Holiday, and we wistfully long for quieter times.”
While such materialism is an unwelcome side-effect of liberalisation, it is not enough justification to stop it. While Australia remains steadfastly shut down on Friday, its commonwealth cousin Canada has removed most restrictions in the last couple of decades. This year Nova Scotia has changed its 80 year old laws that allowed pubs to only serve alcohol with meals on Good Friday. Nova Scotia was one of the last holdouts. Only Manitoba and Prince Edward Island still require pubs and clubs to be closed on the day while in Saskatchewan, bars cannot open until noon. "Good Friday has held out…because of its religious connotations," said Craig Heron, associate professor of history at York University. "Which is odd in a society where there are many, many other religions that don't celebrate Good Friday."