English: Great to see 'strong opinions' on flag

Bill English (Reuters)
Bill English (Reuters)

Acting Prime Minister Bill English says now the flag referendum is over, the Government has "a lot of other things to do" and won't be dwelling on the result.

Though the final outcome won't be known until tomorrow, the preliminary result released last week had the existing design in front of Kyle Lockwood's fern-adorned variation, 57 percent to 43.

Despite Prime Minister John Key's strong support for change, Mr English was the actual minister responsible for the referendum. Speaking on the Paul Henry programme this morning, he said a "surprising number voted for change, but certainly not near enough".

"I think the broader population has spoken -- they're happy with their flag. They just want to see the flag waving, they want to see their teams winning, they want to feel good about being New Zealanders. I think they feel better about it now."

Like his boss, Mr English doesn't think the $26 million process was a waste of time.

"I think what's been great has been to see so many New Zealanders taking a strong opinion about something. We generally avoid strong opinions if we can, particularly in polite company. But on the flag, it's polarised people a bit -- it's got them talking about what they think the flag's for, what it means, whether they like the alternative, what the politics of it are."

The opposition to change came from an unlikely political alliance of conservatives opposed to any change, republicans who'd rather wait until New Zealand ditched the monarchy, left-wingers looking to give the Prime Minister a bloody nose and people who just didn't think Mr Lockwood's design was any good.

One supporter of change was former National Party and ACT leader Don Brash, who admitted a rather personal view on why he voted the way he did.

"I chose the black and blue Lockwood design rather than the red and blue Lockwood design I think because black and blue are my old school colours," he said this morning, also on Paul Henry.

Lewis Holden of lobby group Change the NZ Flag says despite Kiwis' rejection of the fern-and-stars, he'll continue to push for not just a new ensign, but change at the very top.

"The Queen's 90 now, the rest of the family isn't getting any younger and Charles will be the next king," he told Newshub.

And as for the flag, it is "just a matter of finding that design that we can get in front of enough people to actually make a majority".

"We will continue the campaign because there's certainly, from the results, a huge amount of sentiment -- almost 1 million votes, actually -- in favour of change."

Dr Brash doubts changing the flag alone will have much effect.

"Is it going to change my view about New Zealand? Absolutely not. Is it going to change the world's view about New Zealand? Absolutely not."

The Electoral Commission will release the final flag referendum result tomorrow, though it isn't expected to change significantly from last week's preliminary result.