Flag change debate demonstrates partisan support shifts

The flag change debate and referendum became dominated by partisan shifts in support – one of the more significant being Labour’s shift from supporting flag change to opposing it, which appeared to be more an anti-John Key position shift.

Analysis shows that many voters shifted their preference for change based on their party support – the result was swayed by partisanship.

So it is imperative that future referendums, like the upcoming (some time) cannabis referendum, does not become a political shit fight. To avoid it being a partisan pissy contest the party leaders should make it clear it is a conscience type vote.

NZH: Follow the leader: What the flag debate revealed about our personal politics

When it comes to issues as seemingly apolitical as changing the flag, the party leaders we back can still change the way we sway.

That’s according to a study published this month by Kiwi researchers, who used the much-debated flag referendum to investigate how partisanship can shape our own attitudes and preferences.

“Our research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences,” said study leader Nicole Satherley, of the University of Auckland.

The longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) happened to include questions measuring voters’ attitudes about changing the flag in 2013, before the referendum was introduced, and again in 2016, after it had been introduced.

Satherley and colleagues capitalised on these data, examining participants’ support for changing the flag (“yes,” “no,” or “unsure”) and the degree to which participants in the study also supported or opposed the National and Labour parties.

As the researchers hypothesised, the data showed that participants tended to shift their opinions to align with those of their preferred political party.

Overall, 30.5 per cent of National voters and 27.5 per cent of Labour voters moved away from the position they originally reported in 2013 to become closer to, or consistent with, the position endorsed by their party leader.

In other words, the researchers found that support for either National or Labour predicted whether individual voters remained stable in their views or changed over time.

Relative to remaining opposed to changing the existing flag design, strong National supporters were more than three times as likely to shift their opinion in favour of a flag change compared with those who expressed low support for National.

At the same time, staunch Labour supporters who originally backed the change were more likely to shift toward opposing the change, compared with participants who expressed low support for Labour.

And strong party supporters whose opinions were already in line with the party position were less likely to shift their attitudes over time compared with participants who expressed low levels of party support.

Can the party leaders promote a true non-partisan choice-of-the-people referendum on recreational use of cannabis when that eventually happens (it must be before or with the next general election in 2020)?

If we have a referendum on euthanasia can that be non-partisan?

The researchers said the findings raised some important questions for future research, such as what motivated party supporters to switch their votes, and whether they did so to align themselves with their party leaders, or just to combat the opposing party.

These are important tests, because when we get around to deciding things like constitutions and becoming a republic it will be critical that the debates and referendums are no hijacked by political parties for their own benefit.

Much will depend on how the party leaders deal with any referendum.

Metro on the flag debate

Simon Wilson has written the best summary I’ve seen about the flag change debate. Those who don’t want change may disagree, but he makes reasoned arguments supporting change.

Why I’m voting to change the flag

The flag referendum should be a vote on whether we take a step forward as an independent, liberal democracy. It still could be.

He gives some background, and then addresses arguments against change.

1. John Key is for it

It’s so unfortunate that John Key has politicised the flag process. But at least he has been consistent.

But the leaders of Labour and the Greens have also politicised the process, and they have done so hypocritically.

What’s the referendum been reduced to? The ego of the party leaders.

A pox on all of them. It’s not supposed to be about politicians. It’s supposed to be about us. It’s our flag, not theirs, and we should refuse to let them define the debate for us.

A pox on some of the media as well (not Wilson), who have made it too much about themselves and muddied the process.

2. It’s a waste of money

Democracy costs money. What’s next: cut the number of MPs in half? Abolish the Court of Appeal? Of course we shouldn’t waste money, and of course there are many worthy causes struggling for the lack of money. But decisions on constitutional and democratic processes should be decided on their intrinsic merits, not their cost. It’s good we have a robust democracy and it’s not a problem that we spend money on it.

The waste of money argument is really an argument against choice and against democracy.

3. The process has been wrong

This is true: the process was very wrong.

The fact is, the process is always wrong. Democracy is an imperfect system, but it’s better than the rest. History is a dirty, compromised and ongoing process, but that’s how progress happens. The flag referendum gives us a chance to take a step along the way.

Some of those at least who have argued against the process are really arguing against change and against having the choice.

4. I don’t like the new flag

I don’t like the new flag much myself. I would have liked a koru, but the one the panel selected was probably the worst koru I’ve ever seen. I would have really liked a Gordon Walters koru, but it did not happen.

And it’s not important, not now. Because the option we’ve got has been democratically selected. It’s not what I wanted, but it is what we wanted.

If you’re waiting for a flag design that you and a majority of others really like, you will probably be waiting forever.

Ideal choices don’t exist. We don’t vote in general elections for the ideal party, or we’d never have a government. We vote, on the balance of likely outcomes, for the choice we prefer.

If you want to keep the colonial symbol of the Union Jack on our flag, by all means vote for the old flag. You would be true to yourself. But if you want it gone, voting for the new flag is the only way on offer to help make that happen.

Some people have had highly unrealistic expectations about the perfect flag a perfect process would produce. What they really want is their choice and everything else is to be trashed as inadequate.

5. We’d be stuck with it

There’s no rule that says we’ll be stuck with anything forever.

If we discover ourselves to be a people who can vote for a symbolic change like this, it will unlock something in our aspirations and imaginations. And yet, because it is a small and relatively simple test, failure will make us so much more reluctant to try again.

We’re not stuck with the current flag, if we choose to change. If we change or not we are not stuck with what we keep or get.

6. It doesn’t matter

In many ways that are important to us, it doesn’t matter. No child will be brought out of poverty because we change the flag. It will not cause anyone to write a better novel or score a better try.

But the referendum does ask us this. Are we really the children of Kate Sheppard and Ed Hillary, proud to have learned the trick of standing upright here? Or have we become the “Yeah, nah” people?

After this election, our flag will be the symbol of our answer.

And yes, it is a deep, deep irony that John Key is not on the “Yeah, nah” side. But he isn’t. And that’s not a good reason anyone else should be.

So yeah? Or nah? We can all contribute to that choice.

Flag poll – closer but not close yet

Flag change promoter Lewis Holden is promoting the latest flag poll as a promising trend but there’s still quite a gap to close up if the flag is going to change.

  • Definitely or probably vote to keep the current NZ flag: 56%
  • Definitely or probably vote for the new flag design: 36%


Support for new flag gaining momentum – poll

Change the NZ Flag Chairman Lewis Holden says a poll of 1000 people earlier this month showed 36 per cent of people support changing the flag while 56 per cent want to keep the current one.

“Support for changing the flag is definitely increasing, while support for the existing one is softening,” Mr Holden said.

Support for the new flag has increased from 25% last September to 36% this month. Meanwhile, support for the old flag has dropped from 69% to 56%.

According to those two poll differences the gap is closing but it’s still not close enough for those wanting to keep the current flag. It isn’t stated whether the two polls being compared were similar polls or not.

A Newshub/Reid Research poll done in January:

  • Change – 30%
  • No change – 61%
  • Don’t know/don’t care – 9%

So there’s been some change since then too, but the questions were different.

“This shows New Zealanders are starting to embrace the new flag design because it’s more representative of our nation.”

It is still early days but the trend is pointing in a positive direction for the Change the NZ Flag initiative.

NZ Herald has more details in Flag-change backers welcome poll trend of a Curia survey of 1000 people January 28-February 2, margin of error 3.6%.

In March there will be a referendum for the public to choose between the current NZ Flag and the flag design which won the first referendum last year. At this stage which of these statements is closest to your view?

  • I would definitely vote to keep the current flag: 48%
  • I would probably vote to keep the current NZ flag: 8%
  • I would probably vote for the new flag design: 12%
  • I would definitely vote for the new flag design: 24%
  • Unsure/refuse: 9%

It may be that more people are warming to the new flag design but there’s still a big gap.

Whether it will get close in the referendum will depend on a number of factors, including how campaigns for and against are run and voter turnout (people wanting change could be more motivated to vote, although some are strongly against change)

And possibly politics and politicians will also be a factor. If as anti-TPPA/anti-Key protesters claim there’s a groundswell of public opinion building against Key and the current government that could manifest in a strong anti-Key/anti-flag vote.

But there could just as easily be a backlash against the growing excesses of protesters.

Too late to swap Red Peak

Yesterday the ACT Party said that 21 September was the latest that Red Peak could be swapped with another of the final four flag designs. From their Free Press weekly newsletter:

Last Day for Red Peak
Free Press has campaigned for Red Peak to be included in the ballot.  With 69 per cent of New Zealanders opposed to change upon seeing the options, the Prime Minister’s project needs a circuit breaker.  The legislation says the final four flags must be identified 60 days before the referendum period begins, and it’s supposed to start on November 20.  The PM should sub one of the options that’s created zero enthusiasm off, and sub Red Peak on.

It wasn’t done yesterday so that option has now run out of time.

Stuff has more details in Red Peak stalemate continues as deadline looms over its inclusion in flag referendum.

The only way the design could be added as a fifth option is by a legislative change, but that would not be required if the Government decided it wanted to swap it out for one of the current finalists.

A spokesman from Deputy Prime Minister Bill English’s office said that appeared to be in line with the August 31 “order in council” establishing the referendum on the four finalists.

It’s understood that applied to any move to swap one of the four flags out for a different option. But it was still unclear whether or not there was time for new legislation to add a fifth design.

But it seems clear that neither John Key nor Andrew Little are going to reach an agreement to put through legislation that would allow Red Peak to be added.

Key has said he would consider it if Labour backed a law change to allow it, without using the opportunity to attempt to change the referendum process.

Labour leader Andrew Little has said his caucus would support Red Peak being included, either as a replacement or an extra option, as long as there was a yes/no vote in the first referendum.

On Monday, Key told media he did not buy Little’s later assertions that he would be willing to discuss the design “in good faith and without pre-conditions”.

Despite Little previously supporting flag change and despite flag change being Labour Party policy Little and Labour have opposed and tried to sabotage this flag change process, citing amongst other things that it is a Key ‘vanity project’.

Labour reacted quickly and poorly to Key’s offer to possibly consider legislation, demanding much more extensive change to the referendum process as well. In response Key said he would only consider adding Red Peak without any other changes, resulting in a stalemate.

“But if you take a step back … I actually think the process has been a good one. We’ve done it on a very cross-party basis, we’ve sought the very best advice we can, and it’s been an extremely thorough process.

“We’ve accepted that advice and it’s really not negotiable,” Key said.

If the Opposition introduced a proposed amendment to a new bill, Key said he was confident the Government would not lose a vote on it (the bill).

But he was still not prepared to run a new bill through the house.

This bill was opposed so did not proceed. It was noted that the flag bill was not included in the Members’ ballot later in the week.

“The question isn’t about winning it, the question is [that] we have had a process and that process is to accept what the flag committee recommended to Cabinet.”We’re quite comfortable with that process. If other political parties felt really strongly about change – i.e. adding another flag, or proposing to drop one of the other flags to stop the need for legislation, as I said last week, we were genuinely open to that.

“But it required them to actually play ball and be reasonable and supportive of the process. I think that’s where that’s falling down.”

So it looks like we have passed Red Peak. Even the twitterrati seems to have moved on to other things, #RedPeak appeared to fizzle out about a week ago.

How would Mallard know what people want?

In a column at Stuff Trevor Mallard talks as if he knows “what we want”, but he doesn’t even seem to know what he wants, apart from dissing an opponent.

Trevor Mallard: Flag issue about PM’s ego, not what Kiwis want

When it comes to a brand spanking new flag, I started the parliamentary process with an open mind.

I don’t remember that bit. He must have closed his mind quite quickly.

The time for change will come I thought. But the middle of the commemoration of World War 1 is not the time.

if you don’t want something to happen you can think of many reasons why now isn’t a good time.

John Key has written that seeing the silver fern at the Bledisloe Cup  game confirmed to him that New Zealand needs a new flag. I watched that game, too.

But something else occurred to me looking around the packed stadium of 50,000 people: you would need three stadia that size to hold all the people who are out of work under National.

That’s why so many New Zealanders are angry about Mr Key’s flag project. There are a lot of serious issues facing New Zealand but the Prime Minister is fiddling about with the flag like he has nothing else to do.

This multi stadia vision of Mallard’s must be quite new. When he was in the Labour Cabinet his responsibilities included Minister for Sport and Recreation, Minister for the America’s Cup and later Associate Minister of Finance. Financie and sporting events must have been a different priority then.

There are 148,000 people unemployed in New Zealand right now, up 50,000 under National. There are 305,000 kids in poverty, up 45,000 under National. Net Government debt is at a record level, up by $58 billion under National. Homeownership is at its lowest level in 60 years.

$26m wouldn’t solve those problems, but it could make a start. Instead, Mr Key is flushing it away on a referendum that Kiwis have clearly said they don’t want.

Mr Key wrote “in a sense, the people have already spoken”.

He’s right: Kiwis have spoken. In every forum and in the media, the public opposition to a new flag and the referendum is overwhelming. The fact that fewer than 700 people showed up to the Flag Commission’s multi-million dollar roadshow speaks volumes.

The polls are stark – 70% of us don’t want change. Just 25% do.

That’s just one poll, so it’s very misleading quoting that. There are thirteen polls cited here, with a range of results. The three option polls show minorities against change in all three polls conducted last year.

The vast majority of over ten thousand flag design submissions were serious suggestions, suggesting significant interest from Kiwis.

It’s as plain as day that the second referendum will vote to keep the current flag.

It’s as plain as day that Mallard doesn’t know what he is talking about – or is deliberately promoting false impressions.

It’s impossible for anyone to know what the result of the second referendum will be.

The point of a flag referendum is to ask the people if they want change. The clear answer is that they don’t.  Not only do New Zealanders not want change, they don’t want $26m of taxpayers’ money spent on a vote.

No, the point of the two referendums is to ask if people want change. Grumpy old politicians opposing change under a Prime Minister they don’t want given any credit gives far from a clear answer.

John Key wrote that he believes now is the time for us as New Zealanders to have the national discussion around changing the flag.

I disagree. This is all for a vanity project in John Key’s name. We should all remember the word vanity comes from the Latin root Vanus which meant empty.

I began this process with an open mind. My mind is now made up. Now is not the time to change the flag. It wasn’t at the start of the process. It certainly is not now, no matter how many times the Prime Minister tries to convince us it is.

Mallard’s mind was obviously made up a long time ago. He has been campaiging against the referendums and against flag change for yonks.

Mallard announced that Labour would oppose change in March – see Loony Labour line on flag questions – despite change still published Labour Party policy.

But his and Labour’s opposition to flag change the Key way goes back into last year:

Petition 2014/0006 of Hon Trevor Mallard
During our consideration of this bill we also heard evidence on Petition 2014/0006 of Hon Trevor Mallard, requesting

That the House note that 30,366 people have signed an online petition calling for the Government to include a question in the first flag referendum asking New Zealanders if they want a change of flag or not.

The petition, along with other submissions, supported the inclusion of an initial “yes/no” question immediately before the proposed four alternative flag designs to be ranked in the first referendum. The petitioner argues that this referendum structure would allow participants to consider the alternative flag designs to help them decide whether or not they want to change the flag. If a majority voted against changing the flag, then the current New Zealand flag would be kept. The petitioner argued that this structure could save money as it might negate the need for a second referendum.

If the majority voted to change the flag, under the petition’s proposal the second referendum would be a run-off between the current flag and the highest-ranked alternative.

The majority of us recognise that if this procedure were followed, many of those who voted against changing the flag would probably not proceed to rank alternative flags, and therefore not contribute to selecting the preferred alternative. We note that the 2011 referendum on the voting system used a similar structure, and more than 50 percent of voters who voted to keep MMP in Part A did not go on to vote for a preference in Part B.

The majority of us note that the petitioner’s proposed referendum structure was considered by Ministry of Justice officials in preparing the Regulatory Impact Statement on the bill. The option was not among the top four for achieving the goal of a legitimate and enduring electoral outcome. There are a variety of reasons for this. For example, for a change of flag to occur, a majority of voters would have to vote twice for change, both in the first and second referendum; whereas those opposed to change could prevail at either referendum. The majority of us believe that the petitioner’s proposed structure would bias the referendum in favour of the status quo. A further reason against the proposal is that placing a first-past-the-post vote on whether or not the flag should be changed alongside a preferential vote as to the design of a possible new flag would cause complexity and thus confusion for voters. We note that the petitioner argued against this assumption.

Some submitters argued that adding an initial “yes/no” question into the first referendum would save money. However, the advice from the Electoral Commission is that not proceeding with the second referendum would produce only very limited cost savings. Net savings would be $2.27 million (given sunk costs already incurred and additional costs).

The majority of us therefore recommend no change to the referendum structure.

So Mallard is misrepresenting the cost – the first referendum with or without his amendment would incur most of the cost.

New Zealand Labour Party minority view

We stand strongly opposed to this bill.

While we question whether there is a genuine appetite for a debate around the flag, this has not been the primary reason for our opposition. Rather, it is the structure of the referendum that we object to.

And when they didn’t get the structure changed (which would have been against expert advice) Mallard and Labour switched to total opposition.

The most consistent argument against this proposed referendum structure was that it would be too complex for voters—we consider this argument to be an insult to the intelligence of the New Zealand population.


Labour wanted to make it more complex.

Mallard seems to have forgoten about this “most consistent argument” now a simple alternative choice in the first referendum and a simple new versus old i the second.

Mallard’s changing arguments are an insult to the intelligence of the New Zealand population

How can he know what Kiwis want when he doesn’t seem to know what he wants, except to oppose key’s flag initiative? Petty politics at it’s worst.

Labour support for flag choice – now or never?

Labour’s absurd stance on the flag change process may have seemed like a brilliant strategy to Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard and Matt McCarten at the time it was devised, but it risked ridicule (there’s already been some of that) and risks more as the referendum process rolls on regardless of Little’s lame opposition to something he and Labour have previously supported.

Vernon Small writes in Labour ‘nuanced’ opposition to the flag referendum lacks standards (is ‘nuanced’ a typo for ‘nonsensical’?):

When it comes to the flag, the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public.

We knew this was Labour’s position at the last election because it said: “We believe that the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public.”

(The rest of its policy was to “review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement” but to back the RSA and others to fly the current flag if they so wished.)

Now, though, it thinks it has detected which way the wind is blowing and has adopted with gusto a new (ersatz) opposition to a new flag.

That reached peak absurdity this week when leader Andrew Little pledged not to even vote in the referendum to chose which flag would run-off against the current one.

Call it a principled position on an unprincipled u-turn if you like. Or maybe, a stand on a standard without standards.

Either way, rest assured. If there is going to be a new flag there’s no way Little – even as a potential future prime minister – wants even a citizen’s say in how it looks.

So Labour is now both in full oppositional mode on the issue, while insisting it is still in favour of a new flag. (The technical term for this is a “nuanced” stance.)

As I posited – that could also read ‘nonsensical’.

The Government’s plan, backed by officials’ advice, is the better option.

More recently Labour has also pointed to growing opposition to a change, backed by public polling.

And throughout it has played on the notion a change now (lest we forget, Labour and Little still support a change) is simply Prime Minister John Key’s “vanity project” – an attempt to create a legacy – or, worse, a distraction.

But there’s more. Now is no longer the right time for a change.

Instead, a delay of five years would be about right. (Perhaps it thinks there’s a good chance Labour will be in power then and can create a “legacy” of its own?).

Has Little actually said “a delay of five years would be about right”?

It may be good politics – though even that is questionable.

Highly questionable now, and it’s likely to be more questionable as the referendums roll on.

But it all looks pretty weird coming from a party that for years has seemed more enthusiastic about a new flag than the Government.

It’s a safe wager that a poll of MPs three years ago would have seen overwhelming backing from Labour and a more lukewarm response from National.

And it also involves something of a political gamble.

Sure, the public mood against a change could become overwhelming and the final run-off between the four options could become a fizzer.

But it is equally likely that, as the options get whittled down, the public mood identifies a front-runner and there is an intense public debate over whether a change should be made.

I think that as the choices are whittled down and as the referendums become reality then public debate and interest will rise.

Especially when the second referendum allows us to choose between the current flag and the best of the new suggestions.

As Small says, that risks leaving Little and Labour”

…left to squeak impotently from the sidelines “too soon”.

And if Little manages to sabotage the flag change process (very unlikely) and remains leader of Labour and Labour manage to get into Government it is very difficult to see any attempts by Little to initiate a flag change in five years time will have any credibility.

Whatever the outcome of the flag referendums realistically this is the only opportunity I will get to participate in choice of flag for New Zealand.

Little should be clear about whether he supports flag choice – now or never?

Conflicting options for people opposed to flag change

I think the dual referendum process – choose a possible alternative first and then choose between that and the current flag – is sound.

To an extent this favours change over having an initial “do you want change” referendum but Key favours change and he called the shots. It would have been pointless starting a process that had a greater chance of not achieving what he wanted.

I think the process we have in place is fair enough though.

However it creates a genuine dilemma for those who are genuinely opposed to change (as to those opposed to the process for petty political reasons) – a presumably significant number of people simply want to keep the current flag. Some people are quite passionate about wanting to retain it.

The first referendum allows us to vote for our preferred flag from the four that will finally be chosen from the current short list of forty.

For those wanting a change of flag, and for those wanting the chance to choose between the current flag and the preferred alternative flag, the first referendum is easy – just choose the flag you like best.

But the choices for those opposed to any change are more complicated, They include:

  • Don’t vote in the first referendum and leave the choice of alternative in the hands of those who do vote. Andrew Little is promoting this option to try and get a less than 50% turnout so he can claim the referendum a failure.
  • Spoil the ballot. There are suggestions to write “none of the above” on the ballot. This would not be counted as a specific response, it would just be included in the spoiled count (there could be a number of reasons why and how a paper was spoiled).
  • Choose your least preferred option in the hope that if the worst of the four wins the first referendum it will be less likely to beat the current flag in the second. This risks ending up with a less preferred alternative flag.
  • Choose what you think is the best of the four alternatives and hope that the majority of people still want to retain the current flag and vote for that in the second referendum.

I understand how those who really want no flag change will feel conflicted on the first referendum.

My advice is that you do whatever you feel like doing, it’s your ballot, your choice.

At least you get an opportunity in the second ballot to make a clear choice for your preference.

Flag choice progress

The legislation enabling the flag referendums is likely to pass it’s final stages in Parliament this week. That’s curious timing, the process seems to be already fully in place.

The Flag Consideration Panel was due to release its preliminary list of flags from the 10,000+ that were submitted in mid-August. If they are on schedule that should happen in the next week or two. I presume this will be after the legislation is in place so my guess is next week rather than this week.

Once there’s a list of finalists (I think about fifty will initially be chosen) that should focus attention on the serious choices that we’re being given – media will have no excuse then for highlighting a few joke flags. Opposition parties should have less reason to try and divert and sabotage the process.

And we the people can have a good look at whether which designs should be included in our final choice of four for the first referendum.

With the process advancing I think most people with give the alternate choices serious consideration, whether they are keen on changing the flag or not.

The official website is here: The NZ flag — your chance to decide

Labour still campaigning against it’s own flag policy

Labour (led by Trevor Mallard) is effectively actively campaigning against it’s own 2014 policy on flag change which states “review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement”.

Actually their campaigning has been ineffective.

The Select Committee considering submissions on the flag change process has ruled against changing the order of the referendum questions – see Order of flag referendum questions won’t change.

Some wanting to change the referendum questions oppose changing the flag so want to reduce any chance of a change.

The Labour Party seem confused – or are blatantly playing politics despite their own stated flag policy which supports reviewing the flag design. They have actively campaigned to reduce the chances of their policy being followed.

From NZ Herald: Select Committee rejects calls for one-off flag referendum

Labour’s Trevor Mallard had put in a petition signed by more than 30,000 people who believed the first referendum should ask people if they wanted change.

The Labour Party put in a minority report saying it was “strongly opposed” to the bill because of the order of the wording.

Labour MPs argued that a clear vote on change in the first referendum could save up to $6.8 million in the costs of a second referendum. The majority report rejected that, saying the Electoral Commission advice was that it would only save $2.27 million net, given costs already incurred.

This looks like opposition for the sake of opposing something proposed by John Key, giving give anti-John Key campaigning more priority than their policy, which states:

Labour’s policies in Internal Affairs will seek to enhance knowledge, appreciation and pride in New Zealand’s identity…

Labour will

  • review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement.

That’s exactly what is currently happening, but Labour are campaigning against the recommended process and on the Select Committee will put in a minority report saying it was “strongly opposed” to the bill because of the order of the wording.

From Vote Positive, Party vote Labour, Policy 2014:

The New Zealand Flag

Labour will:

review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement.

We believe that the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public. We would however support the ability of the RSA and similar organisations to continue to fly the current flag if they so wish. New Zealand changed its national anthem from ‘God Save the Queen’ on a gradual, optional basis and that process worked.

Contrary to this Labour are trying to prevent the public from reviewing the design of the New Zealand flag.

By promoting a “do you want to change the flag” referendum before public consultation on any alternate designs Labour appear to be campaigning against their own flag policy.

Has their flag policy changed since last year? Or are they just being politically petty in trying to hobble a John Key initiative?

Labour leader Andrew Little answered an NBR Q&A on flag change during the leadership contest last year.

Should NZ change its flag:

What’s your personal opinion?

Should there be a referendum?

If you want the flag changed, what’s your favourite design?

Yes, my personal opinion is we should have something more relevant to an independent, small Asia/Pacific nation. I think a referendum is a suitable way to deal with an issue that can be very polarising. I don’t like the idea of the silver fern on a black background. The elements I would like to see in a flag are the Southern Cross, blue for the sea, green for the land and mountains, and a reference to our Maori heritage.

So why is Trevor Mallard leading a campaign against a sensible flag change process?

Claire Trevett looked at this last month in No room for political spite in flag debate.

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.

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 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.

The referendums are a treacherous enough process. The officials’ advice also pointed to the risk of “tactical voting”, in which those opposed to change vote for the least appealing option – so the current flag had a better chance of winning.

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.

But still Labour are “apparently determined to sabotage the process”.

Or at least Mallard is leading opposition to the process. Despite Little supposedly being leader. and despite it being Labour policy.