NZ flag changes open for discussion

MPs appear overwhelmingly in favour of opening up a national discussion around a new New Zealand flag.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said a referendum on the issue could be held alongside the election.

While a change was not "the biggest issue" right now, the Government had a responsibility to put it to the public.

"I think you have a responsibility to do that, because you can only do it every three years when you’re having a general election to think about it," he said.

"It’s constitutional in my view, and constitutional matters have to be taken to the people. So in principle, it’d have to be part of a referendum just like it was for the MMP referendum."

His preference is for a silver fern on a black background.

Most MPs spoken to yesterday were in favour of having the discussion.

Labour supported a referendum, with Internal Affairs spokesman Trevor Mallard saying it was time for a change.

"It is right for the issue to be put to the public."

He would also support the ability of organisations such as the RSA to fly the current flag if they wished, however, saying it should be a gradual process.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said there was a need for change, centred around a growing sense of national identity, and Maori should be consulted. The flag was too similar to Australia’s, he said.

"It should not be just the Cabinet sitting around and using their aesthetic sensibilities to come up with what the alternatives should be, there should be a genuine involvement of the people of New Zealand."

Mana leader Hone Harawira said he wanted to see the Tino Rangatiratanga flag used.

"It’s my personal choice, I love it. It’s more reflective of our history, of our world, and it shows that we’re not just babies of Queen Victoria, we are our own people, an independent nation."

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne backed a change to a silver fern, but was not convinced about a black background.

New Zealand should not be flying the Union Jack, he said.

‘‘I think what we’ve got at the moment is anachronistic. I think it smacks of British imperialism and we’ve given that away a long time ago. I think we should have something that reflects our own identity.’’

NZ First leader Winston Peters said he agreed the similarity between the New Zealand and Australian flags could be confusing for people at events like the Olympic Games.

"It makes sense that people decide ... but I think we need more than eight months to find an alternative, if there is to be an alternative."

Police and Corrections minister Anne Tolley said New Zealanders should make the decision to change.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed it should be up to New Zealanders, but wasn’t sure it was a priority.

"I’d love to see something that really reflected New Zealand. But I think we’ve got bigger things to worry about today, so we will get on with them." 

Northland MP Mike Sabin said he liked the current flag. 

"To me it’s not a question ... I’ve got a view, other people have got a view, that’s what referendums are about." 

Author and academic Malcolm Mulholland said New Zealanders would need to know which designs they were voting for.  

"People are probably reluctant to vote on a change without knowing what it’s going to be changed to." 

Maori would need to be consulted, he said.

Returned Services Association national president Don McIver said although members would likely to conform to the outcome of a referendum, most did not want to see it changed.

‘‘We fought under the flag and some of our close friends died under the flag and it would be a great pity to lose it.’’
Mr McIver said it would be a shame to lose the flag with the World War I centenary coming up this year too.

Fairfax Media