Former All Black great Sir Brian Lochore has urged New Zealanders to be open-minded about the flag, saying it was the first time in New Zealand's history they were able to vote on it.
Sir Brian is on the 12-person Flag Consideration Panel which yesterday began its public campaign to seek alternative designs for the flag as polls show support for change has dropped.
Sir Brian would not say what his personal view was, but pointed to changes in flags across the Commonwealth during the past 50 years. Of the 54 Commonwealth members, 45 no longer had a Union Jack on their flag. "A lot of countries have changed. So I guess if I have a view I would like New Zealanders to open their mind and see what's there, and then clearly vote how they feel. Because we haven't ever had a chance at deciding on our flag, here is an opportunity for New Zealanders to have a look. That's all I ask. If it goes back to the status quo, so be it."
He said he did not have a flag pole at home and did not take a flag to rugby games with him. "But I certainly care about New Zealand and care about the flag."
A Herald-DigiPoll last week showed only a quarter of respondents wanted the flag to change while 70 per cent were opposed. That poll was taken in the lead-up to Anzac Day, during which the RSA criticised the Government for timing the first referendum in the centenary of World War I. Prime Minister John Key has attributed the result partly to the timing of the poll. Rhys Jones, a Flag Consideration Panel member and former Chief of the Defence Force, said he did not think having the debate in the centenary year was inappropriate.
"It's an important part about what being a nation is. I think we paid respect for Anzac Day by not having the public launch until that was over. But 100 years after that event, which made us think about nationalism and really improved our profile as a country, it is a good thing to talk about one of the major symbols of the nation, being the flag."
However, the issue is at risk of getting bogged down in politics. New Zealand voters will pick from the panel's shortlist of designs in a referendum in November before the winner goes up against the current flag in March next year. However, Labour is pushing to change the order of referendums so the question of change is asked in the first instance. That view was also shared by 80 per cent of those polled in a Herald-DigiPoll survey last week. Labour's flag spokesman, Trevor Mallard, has described it as a "vanity project" for the Prime Minister.
The chair of the panel, Emeritus Professor John Burrows, said the panel would not be affected by politicking. He said the panel had not discussed their personal views.