Editorial: Taking time to do it right

Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014

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OPINION: The national flag debate will wait until after the election. So we can fold up a few concerns on that score.

The prospect of an unseemly process to rustle up an alternative flag design, gabble through a hasty and perfunctory debate and squish the referendum into the general election mechanism was widely and rightly unwelcomed.

This opposition came not only by those who favour retention of the present flag, but by people who were well up for change, but didn't want to see the process tainted by unnecessary haste.

Much as twinning a referendum to the election might have reduced the cost of the process, there wasn't nearly enough time to consult and consider the issue properly beforehand.

Scorn emerged, as well, that the whole process would be a deliberate distraction from the substantive issues of policy and credibility that should be the focus of public attention during an election campaign.

Prime Minister John Key acknowledged that the need for "genuine input" into the flag debate and, at least implicitly, acknowledged that this just wasn't achievable in time for the election.

The alternative he has unveiled is essentially a good one: a cross-party group of MPs will recommend the best referendum process to take place in the next parliamentary term and would then nominate New Zealanders from outside Parliament to form a steering group responsible for ensuring that the public had the chance to submit design ideas and debate them.

Though his own preference for change is well recorded, Mr Key was right to put it clearly on the record that there would be no default setting for change. Retaining the current flag would be "a very possible outcome" from the process.

Presumably, then, the steering committee would not only call for designs but would select a shortlist. After all, someone has to. Some commentators are already suggesting that there could even be a mechanism to allow another design - essentially a wild card - to be added to the shortlist, if enough people were to rally behind a worthy but overlooked option.

There could conceivably be two public votes; one essentially to select the preferred alternative, and a final, binding one between it and the present flag. But as things stand, that is just conjecture.

Mr Key has done enough at least to ease concerns that that we might wind up with an alternative that was essentially chosen by a holy huddle of politicians who quickly and carelessly rustled up their own favourite and whacked it in front of the public on a take-it or leave-it basis.

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There's now time to consider things properly. Not for the first time, we grant you, but with renewed focus and enough thinking room to avoid reacting on initial sensibilities alone.

Dare we say there's even the possibility that the whole process could be enjoyable? And, much as experienced design experts are of course welcome to wade in, nowhere is it written that some talented unknown might come up with a design that just captivates the great majority of us?

- The Southland Times

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