Debating a change of flag is a bold gesture of nationhood

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014

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OPINION: Whether it's a silver fern, a koru, the Maori sovereignty flag or even the Union Jack, a debate over the design of the flag always had potential to be divisive.

No wonder Prime Minister John Key stepped back from pegging a flag debate to the September 20 election, which is now just six short months away.

By pushing the date of any referendum to beyond the next election - and more crucially beyond the emotion surrounding next year's 100-year Anzac Day Gallipoli commemorations - Key has ensured the debate will not be hijacked by politicking.

He has also taken the sting out of claims the flag debate is a distraction.

That argument works both ways, of course. While a flag debate might have distracted from cost of living increases and interest rate rises, as the Opposition claims, it would also have distracted attention from issues National most wants to talk about, the economy and cracks showing in Labour.

Going by an unscientific snapshot on the street in Wellington yesterday, the mood for a change of flag might have been misjudged by Key.

Most spoken to far preferred the status quo. But by putting the issue on the agenda for a third term, Key has made a bold gesture of nationhood of the sort that his predecessor Helen Clark did so well.

Such gestures have been lacking from a Government more consumed by recession, quakes, finance company failures and tragedies like Pike River.

But a few years on, and a century from the Gallipoli landings that defined our nationhood, times have changed.

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- The Dominion Post

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