NZ flag debate won’t be ‘put to bed’ until it's changed - campaigner

The AM Show 31/07/2018

Debates around the importance of New Zealand's flag will keep flaring up until it's changed, despite Kiwis voting to keep the current one, a campaigner to change the flag says.

The debate has been reignited after Kiwi actress and environmental campaigner Lucy Lawless said on Twitter she wouldn't be offended is she saw someone burning the New Zealand flag.

Duncan Garner was quick to slam Ms Lawless for her comments, calling her an "attention seeker" on The AM Show on Tuesday. Garner, who voted to keep the current flag in the 2015-2016 referendum, said Kiwis have the right to protest, but doesn't agree that anyone should burn the flag.

Change the NZ Flag spokesman Lewis Holden told Garner he agrees that burning the flag is disrespectful, but believes the point Ms Lawless was trying to make is around the lack of identity the current New Zealand flag represents.

"Our flag is what's called the British Blue Ensign which was a common flag during the colonial era, and there are many variations of it out there. There is nothing that says New Zealand when you look at our flag," he told The AM Show.

"The problem is that the flag debate hasn't been put to bed and it's just going to keep flaring up until it's changed," he said, reflecting on the referendum which asked voters to choose between the selected alternative (the Silver Fern Flag) and the existing New Zealand flag.

He said Ms Lawless' comments don't do the Change the NZ Flag movement any favours. But he said her actions haven't been a massive set-back for the cause, because it has been "clear about respecting the existing flag".

"It's a very wishy-washy tweet she put out. But I think [Change the NZ Flag]'s point has always been around the identity issue. Burning the flag is not a way to talk about it," Mr Holden said, adding that doing so is also illegal.

"We've always said we need to be respectful of the existing flag because it does have meaning for people. But we've also said let's keep the existing flag so people can fly it if they really want, but we think we should change it because of our identity."

Duncan Garner said the reason he voted to keep the current flag is because the options weren't that good, despite it being a "missed opportunity". Reception of the referendum process was critical, with no great enthusiasm shown among the public.

The AM Show co-host Mark Richardson said he understands the argument around replacing the old flag, admitting he voted to change it during the referendum.

"There is nothing there that's just us," he said of the current flag. "There is nothing on our flag that is wholeheartedly, solely us."

Former Prime Minister John Key floated the idea of a referendum on a new flag at the 2014 general election. He said his biggest regret as PM was not being able to change the flag. 

Watch the full interview with Lewis Holden above.

The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.

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