The opportunity to change, or not

August 14, 2015

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 opportunity this century

August 6, 2015

Prime Minister John Key has accepted a challenge from MoreFM breakfast host Simon Barnett to make his case for a change of the New Zealand flag in six minutes this morning at 7:40 a.m.

If he needs inspiration, Mahe Drysdale has provided it:

I have raced under the current flag, I have led the New Zealand Olympic team into the Opening ceremony in 2008 and closing ceremony in 2012 carrying the current flag and I have had the flag raised with the national anthem played at 5 World Championship and the Olympic games and been photographed numerous times holding the flag.

From that you might think the current flag is pretty special to me! Well it has been a big part of my celebrations over the years but I don’t race for the flag, I race for New Zealand and the people of New Zealand. The flag represents us as a nation it identifies our nation and if it’s the current flag or a new one I will continue to proudly represent New Zealand under either.

My issue with the current flag is, I don’t think it truly represents who we are and how we have evolved as a nation since the current flag was adopted over 100 years ago in 1902. We are now in the minority of countries of former British dominions that still has a flag with the union flag (jack) in its flag.

Whether you agree with the referendum about changing the flag or not, doesn’t really matter. It is going to happen and so I encourage everyone in New Zealand to have a good think about it and make your opinion count. If you truly like the current flag, vote for it. Personally I think we can do better and this is an opportunity that may never happen again in our lifetime to choose a flag that is distinctly New Zealand, represents us and we can all be proud of. Lets not be scared of change.

It’s more than a century since the current flag was adopted, we won’t get another chance to vote on whether or not to change it for a similar length of time.

Personally I like the Southern Cross, I like the Silver Fern, I like the Koru, I like the Kiwi to me these are symbols New Zealanders can identify with and represent New Zealand as a country. I do get annoyed overseas when people can’t distinguish us from the Aussies, as they don’t know that we have red stars and they have white ones. I believe we have moved on from being governed by the UK so it would be a good time to show our independence by dropping the union Jack from our flag.

As for colours red, white and blue, they are UK colours, again I like black and white they are our national colours, blue at a stretch due to the large amount of sky and sea we have. People say black and white is too much like Isis, I say rubbish I think people can tell the difference between a flag with Arabic writing and a kiwi symbol, plus we can’t let a terror group control what colours we use. Those are my personal views but again its up to all the people of the nation to decide what they like best.

The best example I can think of is the Canadian flag, again when this changed to the current flag back in the 1960’s it was highly controversial, but I think it is now a striking flag with the red and white (national colours) and maple leaf (national symbol) it is very easy to identify it’s the Canadian flag and I certainly don’t hear anyone complaining about it any more.

I have heard various views from our veterans and the RSA regarding why we can’t change the flag, as its disrespectful to those that fought under the flag. I hugely value what all veterans have done for our country and what they have sacrificed for people like myself. I certainly don’t wish to disrespect them or their views but I have two points here.  One by fighting for us they insured we didn’t end up having the German or Japanese flag and they have given us the ability to live in a democracy where the people of the country get to make decisions like what flag we want to represent us as a nation. Secondly and again I don’t wish to belittle what they have done in any way, as they certainly made the ultimate sacrifice for us all.  But I don’t buy the argument that they fought for the flag, I believe they fought for the nation, the great people that live in New Zealand and because they believed in our nation, not because they liked the flag. We aren’t after all dishonoring the current flag, just discussing if its time for a make over, the current flag will always be a big part of our history.

New Zealanders didn’t fight under our flag in WWI, they fought under the British one.  New Zealand soldiers did, and still do, wear a fern and those who died in service have a fern on their graves.

So this leads me back to the referendum, at around $26 million this seems like an expensive exercise. The thing is though, whether you agree or not, it is happening. So lets make it worthwhile. It will be a waste of money if everyone says I don’t care and doesn’t think about it.

It is a lot of money over a couple of years, but not nearly as much spread across more than a century since the current flag was adopted and a similar time before there is likely to be another chance for us to vote on the matter.

The decision to spend the money has been made, the waste will be if people close their minds and refuse to engage in the process.

Lets all put our heads together, really think about it and decide if you truly think our current flag represents us as a nation in 2015 and going forward for generations. Or is it time to change and use this once in a lifetime opportunity to come up with something we can all be proud of. A flag that stands out and uniquely identifies us. Personally I believe kids under the official voting age should have a say in this referendum, they are after all the ones who will have to live with it for the longest!

Personally I hope there is a change option that I can identify with and I like more than the current flag, either way the people of New Zealand get to make the decision and I will proudly represent our nation under whatever flag the nation decides, I just hope it will be one like the Canadian flag that has our national colours and some unique Kiwi symbol(s).

Mike Hosking agrees:

. . . My gut is the new design must contain the fern. The same way the Canadians respond to the maple leaf, if there is one thing that is instantly recognisable all over the world that is ours, it’s the fern.

But let’s at least start to take this thing seriously, those of us who have laughed or joked or questioned the very existence of this whole process (like me). Let’s at least accept it’s here, it’s real and once they get to the pointy end of the choice, let’s put a bit of weight around our place in the world and the role a flag plays in that.

What we want to say about ourselves, what sort of course we want to chart, what sort of message we want to send.

Mahe is right – this is a once in a lifetime chance. We squander it at our peril.

The Flag Consideration panel had more than 10,292 designs submitted from which they will choose the four we will vote on.

Several have a silver fern and four stars, among them is this one which I like:

flag (640x320)

Designed by: Kyle Lockwood from Nelson

Suggested by: Andrew Whelan from Nelson

I believe the Silver fern is central to our nation’s identity and deserves pride of place on our flag. In war, in sport and in commerce it is the symbol of our country that has outlived all others, and under which we all unite regardless of cultural or ethnic differences. I think black has also become an important part of our identity, and this version of Kyle’s flag allows the black to celebrate the southern cross flying in our clear night sky while still allowing for a touch of colour, and retaining a little of the red, white and blue of its predecessor.

 Lockwood has another variation on this flag with the black and blue reversed.

. . . Black has been a gazetted official New Zealand colour since at least 1975, along with red and white, and the colour blue features on our official coat of arms and, of course, our present flag which was made official in 1902.

The colours black, red, white and blue were also on New Zealand’s first home grown flag design of 1834.

Black also featured strongly on New Zealand war service medals, given to our brave soldiers after World War Two, it is a significant colour to Maori, and features on the Maori National Flag of New Zealand made official in 2011. . .

Contrary to popular belief the silver fern did not start out as a rugby football symbol, it actually was first worn by New Zealand troops in 1853, and in the 1880s was adopted by our rugby team, firstly as a gold fern on a navy blue Jersey. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the silver fern on an all‐black jersey became well known.

Like the maple leaf to Canada, the silver fern ‘screams New Zealand’, and it’s not just a mere sports symbol. In far off fields lie our soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, forever memorialised under the silver fern.

The fern is on our army and navy logos, our firefighter and police uniforms, it’s on our money, it’s on our passports, it’s on our national airliners, it’s our symbol and it’s time we put it on our flag.

In examining our history and growing sense of national identity, it appears that many would like to include our famous national colour black, and of course many others would not like to see a fully black flag with all the piracy connotations that it invokes.

Perhaps this flag, with a nod to our past, incorporating all of New Zealand’s national colours and the fern, is the design that best represents New Zealand ‐ without the colonial overtones of the Union flag that takes up the dominant position on our present flag.

And, like the flags of Belgium and South Africa, it also doesn’t suffer from an overuse of black.

Black is our obvious national colour. It represents the pride and strength of New Zealand. To Māori, black represents potential, and signifies the beginning of time, which is apt, given our position as one of the first nations to see the new day.

The colour blue, representing the pacific, and our clear skies, along with the traditional New Zealand Southern Cross in red, gives this proposed national flag the required vibrancy that a silver fern on an entirely black background cannot achieve. By incorporating the Southern Cross and colours from our present flag, I believe the design also honours our history.

The fern says New Zealand in a way the current flag doesn’t:

Why change the flag? New Zealand needs a flag which is instantly recognisable – so our troops don’t have to add a black-and-white Kiwi beneath a camouflaged flag so that they’re not confused for Australian or British soldiers.

Change the NZ Flag's photo.


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