The flag debate

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

Fewer than two in five Kiwis want to retain the current flag, despite its defenders arguing it is the standard our troops fought and died for.

A Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll has found that only 38.6 per cent do not want a change to the current blue ensign incorporating the Southern Cross and the Union Jack.

But with almost 19 per cent “not bothered either way”, the call for a change, put on the table for debate by Prime Minister John Key earlier this month, is hardly overwhelming either.

The survey found that just under 18 per cent wanted the flag replaced with the silver fern – Key’s personal favourite – while another 23.7 per cent want a change to something other than the silver fern.

Key said the result was a strong starting point, with a narrow majority even before a campaign had begun. “My instinct would be that more coverage would more strongly make the case for change. I take a lot of heart from the poll.”

So 42% support change and 39% oppose it. That is a pretty good starting position.

Here’s what I would do, to facilitate New Zealanders being able to make an informed decision on the flag. A simple three step process.

  1. Launch a design competition and panel to consider alternate flag designs and short-list four of them.
  2. Have a referendum with the general election where voters vote for their preferred alternate design to go up against the current design out of the four short-listed designs.
  3. Then around six to twelve months after that referendum, have a binding final referendum where the design that won the first referendum goes up against the current design

I think having two separate votes is essential. You need a clear simple A vs B choice for the final vote, where NZers have had time to consider the merits of the alternate design to the status quo.

The first referendum is also essential, as that gives the final alternate design legitimacy. You will never get wide-spread agreement on an alternate design that is foisted on people. But people will get behind the winner of a fair vote, even if they had a preference for another design.

I have a preference for the silver fern on black design. But if that didn’t win the first referendum, I’d probably support whatever design does win so long as it is an improvement upon the status quo which I find absolutely unappealing and far too similar to Australia’s.

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