This became an issue earlier this year when TransitNZ refused to fly the tino rangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty) flag on Waitangi Day. At the time, they stood by their official policy that they would only fly the flags of recognised nations on their national day (and even then only if that country's highest diplomat in New Zealand requested it and if they provided the flag). However, they recently flew the flag of the European Union on Europe Day, even though the EU isn't a county, a move that angered Maori activists. Transit has since admitted that flying the EU flag was a mistake.
Transit's new policy has been interpreted by many as their attempt to duck having to deal with the issue of whether the Maori flag—which isn't an officially recognised flag—should be flown from the bridge. Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said:
Instead of focusing on that issue—addressing Treaty responsibilities and acknowledging the tangata whenua of this country—Transit New Zealand appears to have thrown its hands up in horror, and got rid of all the flags of other countries as well. ["tangata whenua" means, basically, native people, though it doesn't translate that way, meaning instead something more like the people of the land, the people who belong to this place].Transit chief executive Rick van Barneveld said:
The Transit board appreciates the interest many people have in what flag is flying on the bridge on any given day. However, our focus needs to be about the safe and efficient operation of the state highway network.Personally, I think the solution would be to "out-source" responsibility for the flags to another body which would take its directions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, meeting, of course, the requirements set by Transit NZ (primarily for safety of both people and the bridge itself). As I said before, it’s unfair to make the road managers responsible for as highly-charged a function as deciding what flags to fly when. This probably isn’t the end of this matter.
It's often been said that looking at the flags and trying to figure out what country the foreign one belonged to was one of the few high points of commuters' tip over the bridge. It will be a shame to end the practice.