Lively debate on flag expected

Last updated 13:00 30/01/2014
Mike Rodwell
Fairfax NZ
WAVING YOUR FLAG: Mike Rodwell pictured at Anzac Park in 2011 with a previous design for a new New Zealand flag.
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A long-time Nelson campaigner for a new New Zealand flag warns a referendum on the contentious issue will be divisive.

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.

Richmond man Mike Rodwell, 72, has been advocating for a more unique national flag for 50 years, calling the present flag "a colonial hand-me-down", and believes a referendum will result in a vote for change.

"Sadly, I see the debate can be quite contentious. Everyone will have their own idea on what the design should be," he said.

While he has previously suggested a black flag with a silver fern, and his car licence plate is SLVRFN, he said did not have a fixed position on a design, which he believed should be opened up to a design competition.

He described the referendum as a brave move.

"I'm actually quite surprised. Most prime ministers prefer to stay away from something contentious but I suppose you can make the case that it takes people's minds off other issues. It could well be a distraction."

Nelson RSA president Barry Pont is against changing the flag and said most RSA members would be, too, because of those who had fought for it.

He said the referendum would be a distraction from other issues.

"I hope it will be defeated."

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 right of organisations such as the RSA to fly the current flag if they wished, 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.

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

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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." Fairfax NZ Vote in our online poll at nelsonmail.co.nz.

- Nelson

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