The flag issue is really struggling to generate any enthusiasm. Has it gone on too long? But now the business end arrives in the form of advertising alerting us that the first referendum is approaching. Is this when we start asking ‘oh were you really serious?’
The idea of change appeared to have been built on the indignation that globally many people confused our flag with Australia’s. Our national pride was offended; we became outraged. This cannot be allowed to continue. So thousands of us got out our crayons, waxy or digital, and poured forth all manner of variations of ferns and korus that were uniquely ours.
The general reaction once we got these thousands whittled down to four, then up to 5 has been a bit underwhelming. They do, as critics say, just look like designs for commercial packaging whereas the existing flag looks like a national flag.
So let us re-evaluate the premise of outrage upon which we launched into this multi million dollar project: that people confuse our flag with Australia. The first consideration is that the New Zealand design had been in use in NZ since 1869 as our flag to be flown at sea (although given official status in 1902). The Australian flag was designed in a competition held in 1901. New Zealand’s flag in use was obviously the inspiration for the Australian design.
No doubt there is a strong family resemblance. Is that unique to us? If we were at an olympic stadium and looking around all the flags on display we would see:
So, which is the French flag and which is the Netherlands flag?
One of these is the Hungarian flag the other Italy.
One Mexico, the other India
One of these is our dear old Ireland the other is the Ivory Coast.
So do we see the Dutch giving up their Tricolour to replace it with an orange flag with a tulip? or the French changing to a bleu flag with a garlic clove or phallic baguette?
Are the Irish having a referendum for a green flag with a shamrock? The Italians for a red flag with an olive?
Are we being too precious? I saw that little boy star Justin Bieber from Canada being interviewed and asked his perception having been brought up with the original ‘brand flag’ the maple leaf. He looked at the selection of options and couldn’t understand why we would change. A visiting comedian from Britain asked the same question thought the fern design looked like a condom packaging design. So children and clowns support the status quo, that is normally a good indicator.
So is our premise that our flag must be unique in the flag world a valid one?
Is it our intention to have one “Brand NZ” that is used not only on our flag but also on all commercial packaging for NZ-made products? all sports, academic, political, military and cultural groups representing NZ? on our national airline livery? The answer is emphatically no. This isn’t North Korea. We are a capitalist country and the referendum is being run by capitalists. Freedom of choice. Individuality. Free market competition rules. Brands must create their own persona. So what is this referendum all about?
Is it interesting that none of the 5 alternatives features the Union Jack, in any format? The Union Jack did feature among the thousands of submissions. Adapting from the current Union Jack on blue ensign with Southern Cross, there were alternatives that combined a Union Jack with other elements/ colours, but none of these made the cut. The Union Jack was persona non grata in the options selected by the appointed committee.
So what is the point of it all? There must be over 200 flags and any averagely-educated person would be lucky to identify 5% of them. Is it important that other people recognise our flag? Is it only important that we look at it; that we recognise what it represents and that we rally under it because we know it’s story? And the story of our existing flag is that the Southern Cross is the common navigational guide that brought all of our pioneers to this country; from Hawaiiki, from Europe and from Asia. The Union Jack tells the story that it was under the umbrella of the United Kingdom that we became a globally recognised nation. A part of the modern world. And we remain under this umbrella as part of the Commonwealth of Nations, headed by the Queen of the United Kingdom. That is our story. And a fern just does not tell a story. The reason Australia’s flag is so similar to ours is that our national stories are both so similar.
I wonder…..I wonder if this is less about a referendum for a flag design and more a republican referendum in drag; testing the nation’s attachment to Great Britain and the Royal Family. But I just don’t buy John Key as a republican zealot. National party tends to be more conservatively royalist as a general observation. JK loves the Royals. He and his family stayed with the Queen at Balmoral and picnicked with the Royal family. He gets on famously with the rock star royals and would really recognise the value of his ability to leverage off these relationships in his life beyond the NZ PM role, which now has a close horizon. So the first referendum is November 20th and just two weeks before that Charles and Camilla are popping into New Zealand for a visit and it is unlikely that this has happened without encouragement from the Government. They should shore up the royal vote.
And Republicanism is generally a Labour Party ambition. All the Labour leaders have tended to publicly supported a republic. They have a current (2013) policy to call a referendum on becoming a Republic. Perhaps cunning old John Key is using this whole flag thing to antagonise the general public against wasting money on a flag design, reinforce the national psyche as royalists loyal to the Union Jack and thereby undermine any Labour party attempt to raise the republican debate in the foreseeable future?
Or am I just reading too much into it all? Surely politicians aren’t really cunning and underhanded with secret agendas and irresponsible attitudes to spending millions of tax dollars on a political agenda. Nah, it must be just what it appears, a genuine belief from a genuine bloke that designing a new flag is a genuinely high priority for our country at this time.