“A new survey has revealed that 74 per cent of New Zealanders now approve of the use of medical marijuana to numb the effects of enduring chronic flag-referendum analysis.”
Andrew Gunn 1/4/16 *


More Histagram than Instagram, the January 1954 Press photo in the weblink below*, has an image of me, front row, sixth from the soldier on the left, waving a Union Jack at the new Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who were visiting Westport as part of the post-Coronation Royal tour of New Zealand.

62 years later would I have still waved a flag and if so which one?

For several decades there has been debate about changing the flag. It’s not news that an expensive and clumsy two-stage binding referendum on the matter has just been completed. The current flag was favoured by 56.6% of the 2,135,622 total valid vote over the contender flag which received 43.2%.*

Us versus them

Flags, the pieces of colourful cloth usually attached at one edge to a staff or cord, evolved as a visual tool for rudimentary signalling and identification of us versus them, especially in environments where communication was challenging, such as a battlefield or a maritime environment.

With strong military antecedents national flags are potent patriotic symbols-think of the Star Spangled Banner, the Union Jack, the Nazi swastika or the black flag of Isis. Sporting competitions between national representatives, a benign continuation of war by other means, are a great place for patriotism and flag spotting. It is no coincidence that celebrity sports people were drafted in droves to give a late push to the failed flag putsch.

Vexing Issue

New Zealand’s first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, was adopted in 1834, six years before New Zealand became a British colony. The need for a flag was pressing because New Zealand-built ships were being impounded in Sydney for not flying a national flag.

As vexillologists have it, the now re-endorsed flag of New Zealand is “a defaced Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and four red stars with white borders to the right”. The starry pattern represents the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross.

Derived from a British Naval Ensign the ensign had had legal status at sea since 1869 and it was adapted and adopted on land in 1902 after the ratification of the New Zealand Ensign Act 1901.

The question the Prime Minister raised soon after the last election (a cunning diversion said some, since the Labour Party not National had flag change in its 2014 election manifesto) could be framed thus: is this relic of a bygone imperial era appropriate in this day and age for a country who saw the apron strings cut by Mother England almost half a century ago in favour of a European economic liaison?

Quick Quiz

Few people outside both countries (and not all that many within) know the difference between the official New Zealand and Australian flags. You will know the answers, but here are some questions to ask others:

How many stars on the Australian flag? 6. How many on the New Zealand flag? 4 (so much for our national anthem’s plea to the deity to guard “Pacific’s triple star”) What colour are New Zealand’s stars? Red, with a white outline. Australia’s?  All white, as was its long-standing immigration policy. How many points on each? New Zealand 5, Australia 7.

You get the point. Kiwis hate being confused with Ockers. The points of difference are pretty small given the overall similar colour scheme and the predominance of the Union Jack.

The $26 Million Question

Was “our” flag, the British Naval Ensign with a Southern Cross emblem tacked on, foisted on us at the turn of the 20th century, appropriate in this day and age? It wasn’t until 1907 that the colony of New Zealand ceased to exist and it became a dominion within the British Empire, itself long since dead.

Many have thought for a long time that the flag was long overdue for a change. It’s a view I’ve shared since 1966 when Gord Miller, my then Canadian flatmate, enthused me with the then new Canadian maple flag in 1966. (Today Gord counsels about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and forgetting the British heritage deriving from Magna Carta and common law, and I concur).

Both proponents and opponents of flag change criticised the design and sequence of the recent two-step flag consideration/referendum process, which cost around $26 million, much of it a subsidy of New Zealand Post via the two postal ballots.

Public meetings attracted more official apologists than participants. The debate was almost exclusively carried out via the media, old and new. If ever there was an opportunity to try out electronic voting, this was it.

Lack of design input

It was appropriate to engage the public, stimulate discussion and generate a range of visual concepts, but professional design input was lacking. The selected contender Flag A was too obviously a hybrid which could have been enhanced designwise to be more acceptable.

(While not wedded to it, I thought that the late off course substitute Red Peak design* had promise but I didn’t like the fact that it mirrored an American corporate logo. A white peak-perhaps diffused with a touch of pink to mark the rising sun and our place on the global time line-would have referenced the Southern Alps, Sir Edmund Hillary and reaching the summit aspirations. These and other elements in the Red Peak also had references to Maori and British culture via the colours and shapes).

A possible move to a new official flag was not just about promoting our sporting identity. It was about our identity as New Zealanders, old and new, from throughout the Pacific, Europe and mainland Asia. It was about New Zealand’s place in the world: how we see ourselves and how others see us.

We are a small country often left off world maps. We have missed this opportunity to put ourselves on the map with a clear identity, which looks back as well as forward, embracing our bicultural heritage and our multicultural future.

Countdown to 2040?

As a back drop to the referenda we didn’t have the potential national secession issues Canada had in the 1960s with French Québec. The lack of specific motivation for change, the lack of an agreed cross-party approach and a bungled process still resulted in a bigger turnout of voters that might have been expected and an inconclusive outcome, given the closeness of the vote.

It’s now too much of a political football for any future leader to play with for some time, even if the recently retired All Black captain helped lead the forward charge for change this time around, after a nudge from the top.

The decade before the Treaty of Waitangi bicentenary in 2040 will see the issue revived, in the context of a push by some for a republic. This will be a more substantial constitutional debate, unless the recent flags waving skirmishes have inoculated people against the real thing.

Hopefully the lessons learned this time around will be applied.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/west-coast/73003250/royals-heading-to-westport-town-planning-for-rain  http://www.electionresults.govt.nz/2016_flag_referendum2/ 30 March 2016 http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/the-flag-debate/74894268/a-short-history-of-new-zealands-26-million-flag-debate 24/3/16  Includes flag options http://www.nbr.co.nz/opinion/nz-politics-daily-20-best-analyses-flag-referendum-   30/3/16  Dr Bryce Edwards
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/the-flag-debate/78415587/andrew-gunn-sweet-relief-from-flag-debate  2/4/16 Some light relief

#Lyall Lukey 3 April 2016
 http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz http://lukeytraining.wordpress.com/  My other (slightly) more serious blog



One Response to “FLAGGING IT”

  1. 1 Corallyn Newman

    Thank you for your comment The Guardian (1-7 April) has an article about our referendum and referendums in general (Scottish and Brexit) by Martin Kettle which would interest you. He was perhaps unaware of the amount of spite and sentimentality that the correspondents of the Press showed and their shock horror that the cost of voting is $5 a pop. This from people who deplore the fact that they cannot vote for ECAN. But as he said it was a no brainer and NZ will get a new flag. I must say I have little respect for people / professional designers who deploy the design. Why not offer one then I think?

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