Labour’s games on the flag

Claire Trevett writes in the NZ Herald:

This is where Labour comes in, apparently determined to sabotage the process. Labour is a relatively pro-republic party in which most MPs favour a change of flag. Despite that, it has set about political point-scoring, even if doing so undermines the very process that might result in that flag change.

Their primary objection is the order of the questions in the referendums. They argue New Zealanders should first be asked whether they want a change – and have a second referendum only if the majority want change.

Labour claims it is an effort to save money. What codswallop. Labour’s objections are an effort to rain on the Prime Minister’s parade and get headlines.

The Ministry of Justice advised against putting the change question first. That was because for many people not entrenched in either camp, the final decision will depend on what the alternative is.

Absolutely. I made this point to the select committee. The proposed question is Do you want this flag or this flag – a simple binary choice between two flags. Labour want it to be Do you want to change the flag, without defining what the change is.This is not about asking Do you prefer Flag A to Flag B, but do you think Flag B is a bad flag. They’re quite different questions.

If we’re going to spend money on a referendum, it should be one with a meaningful question, not a meaningless one.

Had the Government gone against that advice, Labour would probably now be accusing it of penny pinching over a matter of national identity. Labour’s approach is rather selfish and short-sighted and if it has the effect of tainting the entire process, the party might rue it.

Labour short-sighted? Never.

Labour has also taken to feeding the perception that it is a “vanity project” for John Key. This primarily comes down to sour grapes. Labour wants a new flag. But they don’t want Key to be the one whose name is linked to it. They want it for themselves.


Questioning referendums is one thing, but trying to influence people’s votes out of puerile political spite is a different matter. It may be true that Key is keen on a legacy, but it should be irrelevant. The referendums are on the flag, not on the political parties or personalities.

In reality, Key has a better chance of securing the change than Labour would. Key is a monarchist so there is far less suspicion about his longer-term motives. It is not being seen as the thin end of the wedge to republicanism. Labour’s current leader, Andrew Little, favours a flag change as part of a wider move towards a republic. Yet NZ is likely to inch towards republicanism rather than gallop.

The referendums will allow New Zealanders an opportunity to vote on the design of our flag for the first time in our history. A real pity that Labour are trying to prevent this.

The referendum process is now before a select committee and the Flag Consideration Panel has started its work of consulting about an alternative. This is the first chance New Zealanders have had to vote on the flag. The politicians would do New Zealand a favour by simply shutting up and letting the public get on with it for themselves.


Instead you had the farcical sight of MPs such as Trevor Mallard and Winston Peters lining up to submit to the select committee (I was scheduled in between them!), despite the fact they get to debate the bill at the four House considerations. Peters demanded he gets more time than every one else, which delayed things so much other submitters were told that they had to come back another day – despite having been scheduled on, and taken time off work.

Time indeed for the politicians to allow the public their say.

Comments (52)

Login to comment or vote