We don’t need legislation to be patriotic

Green MP Keith Locke is disappointed at the government’s refusal to repeal a 1981 law against “dishonouring” the New Zealand flag.

Yesterday, Porirua man, Paul Hopkinson, was remanded on charges of burning the flag and criminal nuisance for allegedly burning a New Zealand flag at the protest on March 10.

“I had hoped the government would have had the courage of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who last month defended the right of an Australian to burn that nation’s flag,” said Mr Locke.

“Mr Howard said that while the act was offensive it was ‘an expression of somebody’s view’ and to ban it would be to deny free speech.

In answer to a written question from Mr Locke, Prime Minister Helen Clark said the New Zealand government would not be reviewing the law, which dates from the Muldoon era.

“The police may not have proceeded with the charge against Mr Hopkinson if the government had indicated an intention of overturn this anachronistic law,” said Keith Locke.

“Police have other broad-brush laws they can use if they judge the use of fire to be dangerous, such as criminal nuisance – which they have charged Mr Hopkinson with – disorderly behaviour and breaching the peace.

“The flag law should be removed from the statute book as clearly breaching the Bill of Rights free speech provision.

“The idea that patriotism can be legislated is absurd and outdated. Commitment to our nation must come from our hearts. It can’t be dictated and enforced by the state. Also, the law against ‘dishonouring’ the flag could unnecessarily constrain the debate about whether the current design is the best.

“At every international sports event it is clear that most New Zealander’s favour the silver fern emblem. This is particularly true at Trans-Tasman sporting clashes, where the New Zealand flag is easily confused with the Australian one.

“I am asking further Written Questions to the government to find out why it is not reviewing this law,” said Mr Locke.