The opportunity to change, or not

Parliament has voted to give us the opportunity to change our flag, or not:

New Zealanders will have their say in choosing the New Zealand flag after legislation enabling two postal referendums was endorsed by Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

“The passing of the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, with the support of four Parliamentary parties, will secure New Zealanders their first opportunity ever to vote on the flag that best represents them and our country,” Mr English said.

Ah the hypocrisy of Labour which went in to the election saying it would give us the chance to change the flag, and do so through two referendums exactly as enacted, but voted against the legislation.

The first postal referendum is planned to take place between 20 November and 11 December and will empower voters with the opportunity to rank four alternative designs.

The most-preferred design from that first referendum will then go to a second binding referendum in March, where voters will democratically choose between the status quo and the most preferred alternative flag.

Public discussion on the merits of the flags on the longlist is welcome and appears to be vigorous.

The Electoral Commission is well-advanced in its preparations for the referendums, Mr English said.

Prime Minister John Key puts the case for changing the New Zealand Flag:

You can also listen to him put the case for change to Simon Barnett and Gary McCormick here.

There’s some information on flags of the world here.

And John Lapsley also puts in the case for change in the present flag speaks of another time, country:

I feel quite ill when conscience demands I write a sentence of unqualified praise for our political masters.

But helped by a gumboot shiraz and a Panadol, we man up, and get on with it. Here goes:Despite popular thought to the contrary, the Government has made a first rate job of planning the new flag referendum.

And if you believe it’s wasted $25million boring the populace, you’ll soon be proved spectacularly wrong.

True, the first months of the Flag Consideration Project have been as dull as its name. But that was to be expected while they did the dreary spade work of research and consultation. Things don’t get interesting until we set eyes on the possible new flags.

That’s now about to happen. This month the project’s panel of luminaries releases its ”long list” of 50 plus flags winnowed from 10,000 odd entries. (So much for alleged disinterest.)

After a month’s public palaver, they produce a four flag shortlist. Before Christmas the nation will vote to choose one that runs against the present flag in a March referendum.

Come the new year, you won’t escape the pub or the proctologists’ ball without a flag argument. It will be the media’s subject du jour. Talkback jocks will jabber. There will be no place to hide, as we enjoy democracy at its most glorious.

I was listening to talkback on Tuesday, the day after the long-list was announced, and the flag was the major topic.

Let me nail my colours to the mast. I’m for a new flag. I respect our present one, but it speaks of another country – the very different New Zealand of the past. It symbolises origins we’ve grown beyond.

The blue Southern Cross flag with its dominating Union Jack, is our third. We were just a British colony when it was introduced in 1902, but soon to become (dear God) a ”dominion” – from the Latin ”Dominium”, meaning a country subject to another’s ruler.

We may find the term insulting, but our great grandparents didn’t. In 1902, nearly half had wet their first nappy in the British Isles. (Today’s UK born figure is just 4%.) I recall my own grandparents’ wistful immigrant speak about ”mother country” and ”home”.

My mother, a third generation New Zealander who had never been further than Australia, also spoke of Britain as home in the 1960s, though if I recall correctly not after she’d been there in the 1970s.

Until the 1950s, much of our art and literature was obsessed with a great puzzle – what it really meant to be a New Zealander.

Mired in culture cringe, and in awe of anything London, a Union Jacked flag seemed properly parental to a country whose nationhood was still in short pants.

That parent turfed us out of home in 1973 when it joined the European Economic Community, and left us high and dry. Yet our old master’s insignia still sits proud – top left on our flag.

We hear three main arguments for keeping this flag.

It’s claimed change would dishonour servicemen who died fighting for the flag. This is nonsensical – the Kiwis we honour on Anzac Day died serving their country. I doubt the flag crossed their minds.

Some Maori fought under the Union Jack in the land wars, some fought against people fighting under it.

The 1900 medal commemorating the Boer War shows a version of the United Tribes’ flag and New Zealanders fought under the Union Jack in World War I.

It is argued that removing the Union Jack somehow disrespects the country’s Queen. Well, actually, it doesn’t, and the Queen has her own distinctive Royal Standard. The Union flag is her country’s banner.

I hadn’t heard that argument but most other Commonwealth countries have changed their flag without in any way disrespecting the monarch.

The third argument for the status quo is that the flag is historic. That’s true, but also the core of the problem. The flag tells the world the British part of our history remains paramount to us today.

And this is a flag adopted when the colony still excluded Maori from its main census count – a flag which ignored and obliquely insulted our Polynesian past. Yes, it’s that far out of touch.

Fiji is about to remove the Union Jack from its flag, leaving only three of the 49 self governing Commonwealth countries that keep it – us, Australia and those parts of Tuvalu which remain above water. It’s right to value the British part of New Zealand’s heritage.

But it’s wrong that in 2015 we keep a different, distant, country’s flag as the most eye catching feature of our own.

This denigrates us, and it does it very directly. Our country has built its own identity. It’s time our flag reflected it.

I won’t definitely commit to voting for change until I know which of the new designs I’d be voting for.

But I am open to the idea of changing our current flag which recognises only part of our past:

 The Union Jack in the top left-hand corner of the Flag recognises New Zealand’s historical foundations as a former British colony and dominion.

And was designed in Australia to feature Crux Australis (the Southern Cross) by a man who’d never set foot in New Zealand, for a former Queensland governor who was just passing through.

I’d prefer one which is recognisably ours, that may or may not acknowledge the past, and does reflect New Zealand now and where we want to go.

And I am excited about the idea of a flag that is chosen by us.

How many other governments have trusted their people to choose their own flag or vote against change which will be an option in the second referendum?

One Response to The opportunity to change, or not

  1. Mr E says:

    I’ve being a fence sitter on the flag debate. I respect the old flag but also respect the wants by others to change it. You don’t have to travel far in the North Island to see dissatisfaction of the flag we have.

    Now that I have seen alternatives, I have started to think about erecting a flag pole. It is very much a flip flop from me. Some might say I’ve been had by clever marketing, and I suspect there is some truth to that.

    Depending on the referendum, I can definitely see an increase in my patriotism. Part of me feels concerned about the possibility of being susceptible to marketing, but a larger part feels bad about about doubting what a flag change could possibly do to people’s view of our nation.

    It is not often that I feel happy to eat humble pie. But I am happy to do it at this moment. Well done John, Ele, National etc, regardless of the outcome, you have reminded me of my potential to feel more for my country.

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