The New Zealand flag debate - time to care?

Kyle Lockwood's red, white and blue design has made the final cut.

Kyle Lockwood's red, white and blue design has made the final cut.

OPINION: If the Government unfurled a new flag on Tuesday without fanfare, would anybody care?

Too right. So why the collective yawn up till now?

Prime Minister John Key might have expected the debate to stir up national passions when he launched the referendum process earlier this year.

He probably even expected some of the options to be polarising. But he probably wasn't expecting the typically Kiwi "yeah nah " response.  

So far the flag debate hasn't even stirred enough interest to fill up a country hall.

Will that turn around with Tuesday's big reveal of the final four options?

Maybe - and Key is certainly hoping so.

With the flag referendum costing $26 million, the last thing he wants on his hands is a flop, a debate remembered more for running gags about some of the more infamous designs, like laser Kiwi, the "boom" flag and sheep in various poses.

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It's not just that he will have failed in his bid to change the flag - it's that the result will also be viewed as a referendum on him and his Government.

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Key backed himself to carry the debate for a change to his preferred option, the silver fern, when he announced the flag referendum before the last election.

But far from carrying the voters along on a tide of nationalism, it has run up mostly against grumbling about there being bigger things to worry about.

Timing the debate during Rugby World Cup year when the silver fern will be flying high might have seemed inspired - or cynical depending on who you ask.

But it could just as easily backfire.

World Cup fever could breathe some life into the flag debate. Or it could suck what's left of any oxygen out of the debate.

That won't just be a setback for Key. The World Cup will be back in four years time.

The flag vote - love it or hate it - is probably only going to come round once in a lifetime. 

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 - Stuff


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