7 May 2015

MPs asked to consider different flag process

5:58 pm on 7 May 2015
New Zealand flag.

New Zealand flag. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

MPs have been told an initial referendum on changing the country's flag should give the public the choice of keeping the status quo.

At the end of the year, voters will be asked to rank four alternative flag designs.

A second referendum will determine whether the most popular alternative is adopted or the current flag is retained.

The total cost of the process will be about $26 million, most of which is for the two referenda.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was one of a group of submitters who appeared in front of Parliament's Justice and Electoral committee today.

He said a new flag would be a gross waste of money and change just for the sake of it - even if the current flag did resemble Australia's.

"If our flag is too much like Australia's then they copied our design, not the other way round, and they should change their flag to avoid confusion, after all that's usually the way it goes in copyright or patent law."

Mr Peters suggested people against a flag change take action to avoid the second referendum.

"All opponents of this bill have to do, if the committee decides to persist with this bill, is write on their referendum paper 'we want our flag' - that's all they have to do. Their vote then becomes informal and if sufficient numbers do, that then means that informals, which is after all a choice, will outnumber the next highest choice of flag design."

Labour MP Trevor Mallard told the committee he supported a flag change but there needed to be a fair and transparent process.

He presented a petition, representing over 30,000 people, calling for the first referendum to ask voters whether they wanted to keep the status quo.

"I think the lack of a yes/no vote, and that's what this petition is all about, is designed to bias the result."

Right-wing blogger David Farrar, who writes Kiwiblog and is also a National Party pollster, told MPs he supported the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill.

But it was disappointing it would only be a postal referendum as people under 40 did not use post offices anymore.

"The postal system is dying. I would urge you to look at whether you can get an electronic voting option done, every for the second referendum, if not the first.

"Because it would be a real shame if something as important as the flag is decided by a low turnout."

The RSA's National President, BJ Clark, told the committee members would fight to keep the current flag because it was an important symbol.

"They see the flag draped over the coffins of their friends and family who paid the ultimate sacrifice for peace and security of us all. It's hard to underestimate how important this symbol is to these New Zealanders."

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English put out a statement today saying the process was designed to produce the fairest outcome.

Mr English said it made sense for people to know the alternative flag options before they vote on whether they wanted to change the flag.

New Zealanders had not considered the issue formally for more than 100 years and the Government was committed to allowing full public participation, he said.

Public consultation on the flag change opened this week.

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