Flag decision honours dad's wishes

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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SUPPORT: Meka Whaitiri supported her father's view that the current flag should not change. PHOTOS/FILE
SUPPORT: Meka Whaitiri supported her father's view that the current flag should not change. PHOTOS/FILE

War stories from her father influenced Meka Whaitiri's vote for the current flag.

New Zealanders voted to keep the current flag in a referendum this week.

The vote was 56.6 per cent to 43.2 per cent for the current flag, with 2,124,507 people casting votes - a turnout of 67.3 per cent

Ms Whaitiri, the Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP, supported the existing flag because of her war-veteran father, who died in November.

The first duty Sergeant Wirangi Wiremu Whaitiri completed upon arriving to serve in the Korea War was helping to carry six soldiers' bodies.

"The memory of six bodies with the flag draped over them was obviously etched into his memory," she said.

"He gave me clear instructions on several occasions before he passed - don't change the flag he fought for."

She said the $26 million flag-choosing process was a waste of money.

"It could have been spent on much better things."

Napier MP Stuart Nash said 75 per cent of the electorate voted in the referendum.

A supporter of the existing flag, he said the politicisation of the flag referendum was "unfortunate".

Now people could move on "to the issues that really matter", he said.

Tukituki MP and Veterans' Affairs Minister Craig Foss, who supported change, said it was great for New Zealand to have its first opportunity to have a healthy debate on the issue.

"The result is now done and dusted and I will stand proudly under our flag as I always have."

Throughout the debate opinions differed within and across many groups, including military veterans, he said.

Central Hawke's Bay mayor and supporter of flag change for the sake of national differentiation, Peter Butler, said New Zealand deserved a flag that did not include another country's flag.

He said Britain was not pre-eminent in the country's heritage - New Zealand was made of many peoples.

"I came from Ireland, so where's the Irish flag?"

Napier mayor Bill Dalton refused to say which way he voted. It was a personal decision on a national issue so did not need to divulge his allegiance, he said.

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said the referendum result was "great news".

"I am not against changing the flag but the process was wrong."

"They should have kept it simple - the first question should have been, 'Do you want to change New Zealand's flag?' with the option of no/yes," he said.

"It would have saved this country millions that could have been spent on communities/people that need it."

Tararua mayor and status quo supporter Roly Ellis said the referendum result was "as expected".

"The majority of RSA members will be happy," he added.

Ms Whaitiri said the flag issue could rise again, especially if there were better design options.

"We should always be looking at ourselves as a nation, reflecting where we are today as opposed to where we may be tomorrow, but the vote for me was against the whole process.

"One day down the track I'm sure we will have a mature conversation as a nation, first and foremost, and go through due process - not what we experienced," Ms Whaitiri said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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