Flag farce mockery of process

Does New Zealand need a new flag?

Do New Zealanders want a new flag?

Is the plan to change the flag based on public sentiment or political expediency?

Are the legislative changes to enable the process a good use of Parliamentary time?

Is the cost of two referendums to determine the answer to those questions a good use of taxpayer money?

Is the order of the referendums correct?

Should the design process have been open to the public or should professionals have been commissioned from the start?

Should the flags have been shortlisted by an ''independent'' panel, by public vote, or by professional artists, designers or vexillologists?

Should political leaders and high-profile New Zealanders have kept mum on their personal preferences?

Have their opinions influenced the process?

Has that process been rushed and unprofessional?

Are we going to get an outcome of which the country can be proud?

It is concerning that New Zealanders are still even debating these questions a year and a-half after the Government announced

it would hold a referendum on the issue if it won a third term at last September's general election.

Since then, flag entries have been called for and a total of 10,292 submitted by the public.

There has been a consultation and online feedback period.

A 12-strong Government-appointed Flag Consideration Panel longlisted 40 designs, then shortlisted four.

New legislation to allow for two binding referendums passed its third and final reading in Parliament last month and the first referendum (to vote on the design to challenge the current flag in the second referendum) takes place from mid-November.

It simply beggars belief that the Government is considering making changes to the process - and possibly legislation - to add or substitute the ''Red Peak'' flag option at this stage.

The very possibility of a late change is an insult to the flag panel, tasked with the clearly thankless job of selecting the final four.

The political Deal or No Deal? game that is unfolding between the Government and the Labour Party is unbecoming.

Our politicians are making a mockery of process, people and principle.

The possibility of a late change is also an insult to New Zealanders.

Although all those in favour of Red Peak's inclusion argue the Government will be heeding public option, in reality, all the change would show is a willingness to bow to pressure from one sector of the public, promoting one flag, by one designer.

It would be undemocratic to allow that as an option when any other design could potentially have garnered the same public support if it were promoted to the same extent - by the Government, the panel or the designer.

If the Government is prepared to make an exception, why that exception?

That there are possible copyright issues over Red Peak is one thing entirely.

The real issue is if the Government is willing to bow to Red Peak's designer and supporters then surely it must also bow to those in favour of other options on the shortlist or longlist.

By that logic, it should also bow to those in favour of retaining the current flag and to those in favour of changing the referendum order - opinions it previously dismissed.

If it is acknowledged there are substantial flaws in any part of the process, the only viable option is to begin again, with different - and clear - terms of reference.

To allow any one group or party to hijack the process at this stage is unfair.

Otherwise, the process should continue as originally indicated. Although costly, at least the referendums offer the only way all New Zealanders can have their say on an equal footing.

This situation is now a complete farce. It is making us a laughing stock, is costing time, money and energy.

And, sadly, the most important aspect has long been lost. Our flag should be a symbol of national pride, honour and solidarity.

Instead, the process has become one of hubris, ignominy and division. It is a shame. And our leaders should be ashamed.

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