David Lange always had a way with words even if many of them were uttered with his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek.

Around the time his nemeses, Australian PM Bob Hawke, was having the New Zealand flag waved at him on a visit to Ottawa, Lange was giving his view of our two flags.

The late PM said a stranger who saw the Australian flag and the New Zealand flag outside adjacent buildings would assume that some British hotel chain was advertising deluxe and standard rooms. The big, extra star was presumably the more upmarket room.

Today voting papers will be sent out by the Electoral Commission to give Kiwis a vote they've never had before and are never likely to have again, at least until their grandchildren are old enough to vote themselves.


We've been bombarded with all the arguments, starting with the cost of the referenda - which makes you think Key could have simply done a Fijian Bainimarama and inflicted a new flag on us - to the alternative resembling a tea towel, which is dripping with drivel given that few of the critics have ever come up with anything better.

The flag debate's bubbled beneath the surface in this country for more than 40 years and unlike the Aussies, we see it as separate from becoming a republic.

The most vehement opposition, up until now, has come from the RSA which has always said change is disrespectful to those who have fought and died under the current ensign. Having had a grandfather serve at Gallipoli and family fighting in the Second World War, that argument's a crock of the old proverbial. Growing up, the importance of the flag was never mentioned around the dinner table, in relation to the wars, but the antipathy towards the British was frequently raised.

And yet we still have the Union Jack taking pride of place on our ensign.

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Having visited every battlefield in Europe, Turkey and North Africa where our troops have fought and died abroad, some of them with old diggers who fought there, not once was the flag mentioned. As they stood over their mates' graves, always lamenting the futility of war, the old soldiers laid wreaths beneath the headstones featuring a stylised fern, not a silver one, but one blending into the sandstone.

So put the politics to one side over the coming weeks, forget the cost of democracy, bury the dislike you may have of John Key and take the opportunity you're unlikely to get again and fill out the ballot paper.

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