RSA opposed to flag change

23:24, Jan 30 2014

The head of the Returned Services Association says a change in New Zealand's flag could fail to recognise soldiers who had been killed and buried under it.

Prime Minister John Key reignited the flag debate yesterday when he said a referendum on the issue could be held alongside the election.

MPs appeared to be overwhelmingly in favour of opening a national discussion around a new New Zealand flag.

But RSA president Don McIver said for soldiers who had fought under the flag, it held a special status, and should not be changed.

"I think generally the large majority of RSA members would suggest that the flag shouldn't be changed," he said.

"The major reason is our veterans and ex-service people who have served their country under the flag we have now, and in addition to that, they have seen their comrades killed in action and buried under that flag.

"It has a significant emotional hold on our membership."

Key said he would be putting the idea of holding a referendum on a new flag to Cabinet.

While a change was not "the biggest issue" at the moment, 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."

Key's preference was for a silver fern on a black background.

McIver said that if the flag was to be changed, extensive consultation was needed.

"What we've got to do in the first instance is find out what the population of New Zealand wishes to have happen," he said.

"I think in doing that, if the prime minister suggests there is a referendum held, we make sure there is a significant majority for change - a 51 per cent majority isn't a basis for changing the flag."

McIver also said the silver fern, which was often used to represent the nations' sporting teams, had the potential to be mistaken overseas as being a white feather.

"But I think we've got to be careful about designing any replacement flag that is not the subject of misinterpretation."

MPs gauged on their views yesterday appeared overwhelmingly in support of at least a referendum.

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 said.

He would also support the ability of organisations such as the RSA to fly the present flag if they wished.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said there was a need for change, based on 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," he said.

"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 said the present flag "smacked of British imperialism".

He backed a change to a silver fern, but was not convinced about a black background.

NZ First leader Winston Peters 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," he said.

"But I think we need more than eight months to find an alternative, if there is to be an alternative."