Andrew Little: John Key's flag has cost New Zealand $26m

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Andrew Little: "Personally, I would like a new flag, if it was part of a national conversation about our constitution and our relationship with the Crown."
Andrew Little: "Personally, I would like a new flag, if it was part of a national conversation about our constitution and our relationship with the Crown."

John Key's flag agenda has ended not with a bang, but a whimper.

At first, I supported having a debate on changing the flag. I wasn't the only one.

Politicians from all parties reached agreement on how the referendum should be conducted. But these recommendations were rejected by John Key. He refused to give New Zealanders the basic courtesy of asking if they wanted to change the flag by having the same simple yes/no vote in the first referendum.

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He offered his view many times over. In fact he insisted so loudly on a fern that supposedly independent Panel members admitted it influenced them, and they duly chose three fern flags for the final five.

When it became clear that this was about Mr Key, not about what New Zealanders wanted, I withdrew Labour's support.

Personally, I would like a new flag, if it was part of a national conversation about our constitution and our relationship with the Crown, and if there were designers at the table. And I know many of you felt the same way.

But I know it is not the right of any politician to try to impose that change on New Zealanders. It is your government, your flag, your constitution - not mine, and not Mr Key's. If the public want to look at these issues in the future, as Prime Minister I will lead the discussion. But I will not force it on New Zealand.

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Right now there's a whole raft of issues New Zealanders are more concerned about. They worry about the $1.7 billion that National has cut from health; the cuts to road funding and regional growth; the $10 million a day the government is paying on the interest on its record debt; the rising tide of unsolved crime and the falling police budget. They worry about the cost young people are up against to gain qualifications, to buy their own home; how families stuck in cold, damp rentals will stay healthy; how cancer patients are being forced to fundraise for life-saving drugs; how we can, once again, be a country where everyone who wants a job can find one that pays a decent wage and no child grows up in poverty.

I do not blame Mr Key for looking into the issue of the flag. I do blame him for not taking 'no' for an answer. His pet project has cost New Zealand $26 million - money we could have spent on doctors, teachers, police, healthy homes.

Debate for this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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