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Retailers speak out on New Zealand's flag debate

  • Opinion
  • March 16, 2016
  • Mark Knoff-Thomas
Retailers speak out on New Zealand's flag debate

With voting on the flag referendum closing next Thursday 24 March, commentary has really kicked up another gear. At the moment, you can’t go past a local café or store where the flag isn’t the topic of conversation.

It’s become a heated debate which has divided the nation, and as a business association we were interested in the views of our own local community, so invited them to wade in on the debate, and offer a point of view.

As a town centre and retail destination, Newmarket has a hugely diverse community. Our shoppers, business owners, commuters, workers and residents represent a great cross section of New Zealand society, so we were interested in their views, particularly following recent opinion polls that had put the two flag choices almost neck-and-neck, with only one or two per cent in it.

Our communities of interest were asked simply if they wanted to ‘keep’ or ‘change’ the current flag. 57% of the nearly 1,000 respondents (907) came out in favour of the existing design, whilst 42.9% (or 390) supported change.

The Newmarket Poll results show that the gulf is widening. At this late stage of the second referendum, and the possibility of change, public preference seems to be shifting in favour of the traditional flag.

Our pollsters spoke to a wide cross-section of people including a large number of retailers, who it turns out, are as divided in their views on the flag as anybody else. Delving deeper into the results, the findings showed older people were more inclined to vote for change than younger people.

Newmarket retailers seem to span the political spectrum. Intriguingly, and consistent with findings in the wider group polled, older retailers tended to be more in favour of change than younger ones. It was also interesting to note that recent migrants seemed to favour the existing flag.

And people weren’t afraid to voice their opinions either. Local Epsom electorate MP David Seymour commented, “I think the proposed design is a let-down. It is overly complex and as a result it will date quickly. In 20-years we’d look at it the way we look at eighties corporate logos now.”

He also added “I disagree that it’s desirable to rid our flag of the Union Jack. We inherited one of the world’s best legal systems, parliamentary democracy, and fish and chips from the British. I reckon that’s worth a quarter of a flag.”

Returned votes on this second flag referendum have already passed the 1.2 million mark, at the same stage in the first referendum, fewer than 800,000 votes had been returned.

Whilst the future of the New Zealand flag design remains unclear, what is certain is that the process has prompted intense debate and discussion, with the biggest disagreement being about whether the flag should be changed at all.

Like many other New Zealanders, I’ll be watching closely for the results on 30 March, to see what eventually pans out.

Newmarket Business Association will be conducting fortnightly polls on various themes, designed to tap into the sentiment of its residential, commuter and worker populations.

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