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Apologies clear poisonous air accumulating in Parliament

Opinion Piece

A parliamentary apology from the Prime Minister and the preliminary result of the first flag referendum were the highlights of a political week that set the scene for the start of 2016.

On Parliament’s last day for 2015, John Key chose to apologise at last for comments made during a debate on the Christmas Island detainees, in which he accused the Opposition of backing rapists, murderers and child molesters.

Adding to the spirit of conciliation, Labour has written to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee saying comments by some of its MPs were unparliamentary and expressing regret for them.

Both actions have cleared some poisonous air and hopefully mean our politicians will get on with parliamentary business next year, with fewer unseemly distractions.

The end of the week saw the preliminary results for the first flag referendum and it was no surprise that the two Kyle Lockwood designs headed the poll — with a 50.53 proportional vote for his black, white and blue silver fern, just ahead of the 49.47 support for his other design. In fact the result was close enough to be inconclusive until the official result is announced tomorrow.

It is a sign of the convoluted process that Lockwood’s red, white and blue silver fern was the first coice of more voters (574,364 to 552,827); and it was the fourth count before his other design reached 50 percent.

The turnout was acceptable, 1.5 million voters or 48 percent of those on the roll; 9.7 percent were “informal votes” — those wanting to keep the current flag.

John Key has a lot on the line in the flag referenda, which is seen by many as his personal project.

His comment that “even if you don’t like me, if you want a new flag I encourage to vote for it” was telling. His argument is that it comes down to nationhood and the promotion of New Zealand.

A NZ Herald online poll held after the first referendum showed 56 percent wanted to retain the current, 113-year-old design. It seems the second referendum, from March 3-24 next year, could be closer than expected.