Playing the Anzac card

Emerald Muriwai

If dollars talk, Anzac is shouting from the roof whilst Waitangi sits quietly on the floor.

In New Zealand, people are generally familiar with the key differences between two of the nation’s biggest commemorative days. We start the year with the challenging, ‘radical’ politics of Waitangi Day on February 6th and a few months later we join in with the sombre demands of Anzac Day come April 25th. As our project has uncovered, the media does most of the storytelling on these days and their versions of events come without any accountability for privileging the experiences and emotions of one of these days over the other. 

Through our research, we have been exploring the choreography of the days and the influence different people, social norms and practices have in perpetuating the importance attached to both of these days. There is no denying that both days symbolise loss and coming together for different people across Aotearoa. While we agree that both days solidify important events in New Zealand history, we wanted to investigate why such strong and different emotions were attached to these days. This led me to wonder if Government funding of events on these days might play a role in maintaining these differences.  

Waitangi Day at Waitangi (2014); waiting to board the waka

Waitangi Day at Waitangi (2014); waiting to board the waka

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade New Zealand Waitangi Day (1840)  is ‘the national day’ of Aotearoa, New Zealand;

            ‘A National Day is the date on which a nation of non-sovereign country                   celebrates their nationhood. A National Day will often be declared a                       national holiday in the country the National Day occurs in’    

Of course, by definition this should indicate that Waitangi Day should be esteemed by most New Zealanders as the day that defines the nation – both our research and common sense shows that this is not the case.

Anzac Dawn Ceremony in Fielding (2014); a moment's silence

Anzac Dawn Ceremony in Fielding (2014); a moment's silence

The differences between Waitangi Day and Anzac Day date back to when the Government officially recognised each of the days. The first Waitangi Day was observed in 1934 when Governor-General Lord Bledisloe gifted the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi to the nation. Waitangi Day did not become a public holiday until as recently as 1974. Anzac Day was first observed in 1916 in commemoration of the landing at Gallipoli in 1915. Anzac Day became a public holiday soon after in 1921.

Although the historic events at Waitangi occurred long before World War One, Anzac Day was given immediate recognition as both a national day and public holiday. It took 64 years for Waitangi Day to become a national day and some 134 years before Waitangi Day was recognised as a public holiday. The legacy of these Government decisions speak for themselves.

So how are the days funded?

Waitangi Day is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s Commemorating Waitangi Day Fund.  The fund calls for submissions each year and divides a set budget (approximately $290,000.00) amongst its applicants. On the other hand, Anzac Day appears to be funded through multiple sources including the RSA Poppy Appeal and recently, several different Government-related funds equalling over $17,290,676.00 for commemorations relating to World War One. There is no Anzac Day equivalent to the Commemorating Waitangi Day Fund which makes it difficult to determine the financial ‘cost’ of Anzac Day to the nation.

How are the days promoted?

Information pertaining to the days is held primarily by Government-run websites. The Government has more websites on Anzac-related content than Waitangi, but there is no specific understanding of how or why these differences occur:

Who broadcasts the days?

One inadvertent source of funding for Waitangi Day and Anzac Day is that provided by television coverage. The primary broadcasting agencies for the days are New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.

New Zealand On Air (NZ On Air) is a government broadcasting funding agency which invests in a range of local television, radio, music and new media content. In a recent annual report NZ On Air (2015) states:

                   In a media world with few global barriers, NZ On Air preserves a place                    for content made by and about New Zealanders – on television, radio                      and online. This local content plays a key role in our cultural identity.

                   We invest over $130 million each year in a diverse range of media for                        both mainstream and special interest audiences – from drama and                            comedy, to music, to specialist current affairs. The flexible NZ On Air                        model is unique. We are not tied to any one platform - we go where the                    audiences are.

NZ On Air records state that in 2015 a funding decision for $108,661.00 was allocated to coverage of Waitangi Day 2016 in a new funding decision to support live coverage of the day through Māori Television. As yet, there is no public record of this being funded by NZ On Air in the past and there is also no evidence of the funding continuing in 2017. In contrast, in 2016 $163,437.00 was reserved for Anzac Day coverage including the Dawn Parade Live (Māori Television) and  the National commemorative service (TVOne) . This funding has been consistently increasing since records started in 1997.

Since 1997 NZ On Air has spent $1,425,528.00 on live coverage of Anzac Day and $108,661.00 on Waitangi Day live coverage. NZ On Air also funds content outside of the live coverage of the days. Using the search terms ‘anzac’ and ‘waitangi’ on the NZ On Air website’s funding decisions search tool, the following table was generated.

NZ On Air appeared to have spent more on non-coverage Waitangi Day content than Anzac Day content, however, this is an incomplete picture. Once adding in the cost of live coverage we see that Anzac Day has been allocated at least $1,235,066.00 more in funding dollars than Waitangi Day since 1997. This is a conservative estimate given the limited scope of only using ‘anzac’ and ‘waitangi’ as search terms in NZ On Air’s search engine.

NZ On Air is not the only entity funding broadcasting of our national days. The next largest source is Te Māngai Pāho. Unfortunately, Te Māngai Pāho records only date from 2006-2016 and further only have data for both the national days between the years 2009-2014.

Again, the disparities in funding are huge.  From 2009-2014 Te Māngai Pāho awarded $2,601,798.00 in funding decisions for Anzac Day coverage and just $320,500.00 for Waitangi Day coverage.

Although this brief analysis only scratches the surface, it suggests that disparities created by Government decision-making may impact on current feelings and value of the days. Of course, the days should not be competitors for national importance as they concern different events. Yet our research has addressed that Anzac Day and Waitangi Day are framed and experienced very differently. Despite Waitangi Day being allocated Aoteraroa’s official ‘national day’, it seems that it is less valued than Anzac Day from a Government policy/spending perspective. If dollars talk, Anzac is shouting from the roof whilst Waitangi sits quietly on the floor. There is a lot more work to be done in a journey towards equity in Aotearoa. Indeed, the day where both Anzac and Waitangi are accorded equivalent value will be a day worth celebrating.  


The author wishes to thank Tim McCreanor, Margie Wetherell and Alex McConville for their support and contributions.