No time to flag our duty

The decision has been made on the four flag designs on which New Zealanders will soon vote but the discussion and debate is unlikely to wane as many express their disappointment at the choices.

Out of the many designs originally submitted, the Flag Consideration Panel released on Tuesday the four short-listed designs which voters will rank in order of preference in a postal referendum in November.

The flag debate is a chance for Kiwis to control their own future identity.

Prime Minister John Key wants to change the flag from the current one which includes the Union Jack. His ambitions have been seen as a legacy project, a waste of the $26 million spent to be spent on the project and a diversion from the so-called real issues in the economy: a distraction, in other words.

No amount of talking will change the way some people feel about the process but there is an important issue at stake which will dog the country for generations if it turns out incorrectly this time.

Mr Key wants a silver fern on the flag and the panel duly delivered, three times in fact.

The fourth option involves the embryonic fern in the form of a koru. Black and white features on two of the flags, blue, black, red on the other two, along with the Southern Cross, one of the enduring symbols of New Zealand's place in the actual world.

According to the designers, black and white are the de facto national colours of New Zealand and should be reflected on the flag.

The Maori-influenced koru features a monochromatic colour scheme with the designer having no concerns about the strong black and white influence.

Kyle Lockwood, who is from Wellington but now lives in Melbourne, has two designs - both the same except for red in the corner of one flag and blue in the other. He has long advocated a change in flag.

Sadly, there are moves already under way to gerrymander the voting process.

The Returned Services Association, which has members vehemently opposing the change, says New Zealand soldiers have died on the battle field under the current flag.

The association is urging opponents of the change to either destroy or spoil their ballot papers in the first referendum.

Labour flag spokesman Trevor Mallard said the koru was absolutely awful so it is likely he will vote for it as a protest vote.

Officials warned earlier there was a risk opponents of change could vote for the least attractive option to try to ensure a weaker contender against the current flag. Labour leader Andrew Little says he will not vote in the referendum.

Gerrymandering the vote in any form will be a disappointment. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be wasted and hopefully, not too many people will be swayed by the argument.

In 1992, New Zealand voters faced a choice of whether to replace the first-past-the-post voting system with an alternative.

Two questions were asked: Whether the system should be changed and what should be the alternative.

Despite campaigns funded by wealthy New Zealanders of the day, New Zealanders overwhelmingly voted for a change and for mixed member proportional representation, which allows political parties to be represented in Parliament by the vote they receive in general elections.

The second and binding referendum was hard-fought with proponents and opponents flying in world experts to push a particular point of view.

MMP won by 54% to 46% and there has been no looking back.

In 2011, again a majority of voters wanted to keep MMP.

That is why voting in the flag referendum matters. Sporting stars and celebrities will influence the voting if we do not make up our own minds.

This is a political issue, and the placating words by the flag panel do not make it anything else but it being driven by Mr Key.

The panel selected what are considered the more popular options in a hope of boosting the voting numbers. However, this is no time to avoid taking responsibility for making a decision.

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