New Zealand Idol should never have been used as a template for the Flag Consideration Panel.
Documents released to me under the Official Information Act demonstrate that the methods applied to reach decisions were more in line with a talent contest rather than a function of responsible government.
The process should not be about celebrity judges, celebrity appearances, celebrity designers, or social media voting.
We were told that the Flag Consideration Panel would be independent, fair and transparent. Chaired by Professor John Burrows QC, it was an independent advisory board, like the Law Commission that Burrows previously chaired.
As a trained lawyer and independent hearings commissioner, I had an expectation that the panel would operate like a board of inquiry, much like how resource consents are decided.
Avoidance of actual and perceived bias is fundamental to maintain public confidence in decisions, especially when there is high public interest.
The panel members weren't irreplaceable. They weren't experts in a relevant field. Panel members Julie Christie and Nicky Bell were easily substitutable and should have avoided such public scrutiny.
Steven Joyce's former private secretary should never have been selected as the senior advisor to the panel. The Director of the New Zealand Flag Project, Kylie Archer, also has a CV that raises too many questions. Were John Key's public statements during the process the result of information leaked from panel meetings?
Celebrity is not a substitute for expertise. Matt Holmes, the Nike designer formerly from Fisher & Paykel, has no experience or skills relevant to flag design (vexillology). In fact, none of the advisory group did.
For a national flag, the advisory group should have drawn on the expertise of several vexillologists. Fiji did.
Two leading vexillologists told me that they offered the government advice but were turned away. Several at the recent world congress of vexillologists shared similar stories.
What we've seen are celebrity panel members choosing celebrity advisors selecting celebrity designers' designs.
Of the 10,000+ entries, it seems more than a coincidence that Kyle Lockwood, Sven Baker, Andrew Fyfe, Otis Frizell and Alofi Kanter all had multiple designs that made the long-list of 40. Considering that Sven Baker's designs were so different - and most were of little national resonance - perceived bias is an obvious concern.
To avoid any perceived bias, the names of designers should have been hidden from those assessing designs. Wine and food judging applies the same principle.
Judging an idea based on the designer rather than the quality of its content is an affront to our egalitarian heritage and has no place in the process to decide a national flag. Steven Joyce has attacked me rather than the facts I've raised , which demonstrates my point.
When so much celebrity was used, it reminds me of a magician's use of a beautiful assistant as a diversion. When Bill English said that social media had a huge role, were the panel a diversion? Were the results pre-determined? Was the koru flag design in the final four, as Mike Hosking suggested, "A sop?"
Everything the National Party has done around the flag debate is dodgy. Since Lewis Holden took over the "Change the Flag" campaign after Lloyd Morrison's death, he became a National Party candidate for Rimutaka and guided his campaign away from Lloyd's preference for a silver fern on a black background and towards Kyle Lockwood's designs - which coincides with John Key and David Farrar's positioning.
Lewis told me that the RSA asked for public funding to campaign against the flag change. What other information has the government shared with Lewis and the National Party? Conversely, what information about his 27,000+ Facebook supporters has Lewis shared?
Perception is reality in politics. The perception is that the Flag Consideration Panel is a jack up. New Zealanders should feel violated and manipulated by the tentacles of Steven Joyce's campaigning apparatus.
The Secretary of the Flag Consideration Panel stalled the release of information I requested under the Official Information Act until after the date that the referendum is announced. I have therefore lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman.
I could apply for an injunction on the referendum until I have the information requested. I could then apply for a judicial review, which could delay the referendum for a year.
There is nothing wrong with the flag legislation. The Flag Consideration Panel were just an advisory body and it is the Executive who chose the four designs for the first referendum and the dates of the two referenda.
The cross-party flag committee appointed the panel but it was their methods that created this mess. The committee can call for a board of inquiry of judges and vexillologists to clean it up.
What they should do is start the assessment process again, call for submissions on the existing submitted designs, and assess all designs properly and objectively.
Any other 'solution' won't work. Simply asking a QC for a legal opinion reeks of whitewash. Adding a design to the referendum reeks of political interference.
In the meantime, the first referendum should be delayed until March. Considering that most polls show that none of the final four designs are good enough to defeat the current flag, National's pollster shouldn't object to that.
Grant McLachlan is a former Parliamentary researcher and a National Party campaign director.