A public decision on whether to change New Zealand's flag is one step closer.
The first reading of the enabling legislation was passed in Parliament last night after a 76 to 43 vote, but was opposed by Labour and New Zealand First.
The minister responsible Bill English told Parliament the legislation would give New Zealanders a chance to have a say on what he called a "vital symbol of nationhood".
"It is now an appropriate time for a debate about the New Zealand flag to be resolved through a careful and considered process. The main feature of which is to enable New Zealanders to make a decision," he said.
Mr English said the first of two postal referenda on the flag were planned for the end of this year, which would ask voters to rank four flag designs.
The second referendum would provide a choice between the current flag and the highest ranked alternative.
But Labour MP Trevor Mallard told the House, New Zealanders should have the right to say no to a flag change in the first referendum.
"We think that if there is a clear view early that New Zealanders do not want to proceed with a change in the flag then we should not spend the tens of millions of dollars that is involved in a second referendum."
The total cost of the process has been put at $25.7 million, most of which would be spent on the referenda.