Though Labour is unlikely to support any change to the flag it is now talking about starting a whole constitutional reform discussion which would ultimately lead to becoming a republic.
The party’s Flag spokesman Trevor Mallard said the party would not dissuade people from expressing a preference for any of the four flags picked today to run off in a referendum before the end of the year.
But it was unlikely to support
He has been highly critical of the cost of the proposed change and was unimpressed with the designs selected yesterday.
“They are very much the same – except one is different but awful,” he said.
“They‘ve got nothing which is simple for kids to draw.
“I think that should be one of the early tests for it.
“They look a lot like brands for companies rather than a national flag.”
Mr Mallard has always been critical of the $28 million estimated cost of the design and referendum process but he is now picking up on a point first made by NZ First who claim any change will cost business millions to change logos and signage.
And he argues that if the turnout for the selection referendum is less than 50% then the second yes/no referendum on whether to change the flag should be scrapped.
There is an irony in Labour opposing the change given that traditionally the party has recognised that New Zealand would eventually become a republic.
After meeting Prince Charles in London in 2013 former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark said her view had always been that at some point, New Zealand would become a republic.
Former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger believes New Zealand should become a republic and has said he has discussed the issue with the Queen.
But Prime Minister John Key told Stuff today that he was not in favour of New Zealand becoming a republic.
Mr Mallard however thinks a future Labour Government would want to begin that discussion with a view to establishing a republic in time for the bi-centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040.
He thinks a long lead in time is required for that.
“What we are talking about is a proper package of constitutional reform,” he said.
“Eventually you’ve got to do a big package which would involve the republic, the flag and probably the anthem as well.
“But it’s got to be a package.”
Mr Mallard thinks it would be best for the debate if it did not begin till the commemorations of the centenary of the First World War are over.
He suggests that the mid to late 20s would be a good time to begin the debate.
That way it would be over in time for the bicentenary or possibly even the centenary of Michael Joseph Savage’s famous “where Britain goes we go” speech on the declaration of war in 1939.
This whole issue is tricky for Labour.
The party’s long time polling company, UMR, today released a poll showing that while 77% of the country care “a lot” or “a fair amount” about what he flag looks like, opinion is deeply divided on whether to change.
The poll showed the country split 52 – 48 on whether to change.
There was also only lukewarm enthusiasm for all the designs shortlisted before today’s final selection with 15% saying they didn’t like any of them.
The Prime Minister believes figures like this will turn around as people start debating the four final designs.
Maybe – but much of the comment today on social media and from on line columns from the mainstream media was critical of the final four designs with several commentators making the point that no professional design expert was involved in the decision.