Key: Flag vote no 'pet project'

Kyle Lockwood's black and blue flag design (Simon Wong)
Kyle Lockwood's black and blue flag design (Simon Wong)

Prime Minister John Key has rebuffed claims the contentious flag referendum is his "pet project".

Nor has it damaged his popularity, he told the Paul Henry programme this morning, with internal polling showing his numbers "haven't been stronger".

The second and final vote on the new flag has two-and-a-half weeks to go, with a recent Newshub/Reid Research poll suggesting Mr Key's crusade for change is likely doomed.

"People can actually see the beauty of both of them -- both of them have beauty -- but one is about the future and one is about the past," said Mr Key.

As Prime Minister, Mr Key he believes it was up to him to instigate change, but that doesn't make it his "pet project".

"The Prime Minister of the day is probably the only person who can put this on the referendum table if you like, because in the end it actually has to have a process to get there," he said.

"Second thing is, whatever you think of the process, we're the only country in the world that's ever asked our people to choose their flag. I reckon there's something healthy about that democracy, that we do that even if the flag I don't like gets there."

In 1993, post-apartheid South Africa asked the public for new flag ideas, but none of the 7000 entries were used. The job eventually fell to a professional flag designer. The lack of such an expert on the Flag Consideration Panel in last year's selection of the final four (later five, with the addition of 'Red Peak') was widely criticised.

But Mr Key says the process used to get where we are now -- Kyle Lockwood's black and blue design versus the existing flag -- couldn't have been any better.

"When you're in Opposition and you want to vote for something but you can't find a good reason, you say 'process'. Honestly, process?

"Twelve people on the panel, independent committee, people with a chance to vote, anyone could put in an application; there isn't any more thorough process we could have done."

Criticism of his overt support for change will be added to the "long list of things they dredge out about me".

"There's always going to be some people who are going to use it as an attack weapon for the Government, or you know, whatever their views of me are."

The postal vote ends on Thursday, March 24.