Archive for category New Zealand flag

For whom the flag flies

By the end of this Thursday we will know the outcome of the great flag referendum.

In this referendum we are in three groups. Group 1: those adamantly opposed to any change; group 2: those who want any flag that does not have the Union Jack on it; and group 3, those who would want a change in the flag to more appropriately represent New Zealand in the 21st century but would also need to very happy with the alternative flag before making a change. Group 3 were probably always going to be the deciding vote between the two extremes.

The polls are saying group 3 are nor convinced that the alternative flag is worth changing to. We shall see, but I suspect they are right. And, dare I say it, they are right because the flag committee did not listen to me in the first place.

180px-Flag_of_New_Zealand_Government_Ships_1867.svgThe use of the Union Jack was originally needed primarily for our merchant ships taking our export goods to foreign shores and returning with our imports. This was our merchant navy flag adopted in 1867. On open seas, ships are required to fly their flag, to identify under whose authority/ protection they sail upon the open seas. Without such, in the nineteenth century they could have been assumed to be pirates and treated as such, or assumed to be victims in waiting and also treated thus by any well-armed Spanish or Dutch ship’s captain. So our ships flew the Ensign with the Union Jack and therefore sailed under the authority of Queen Victoria and under the protection of her navy.

credit: Toby Morris

credit: Toby Morris

Somehow the flag design got into the “Union Jack vs Silver Fern” choice. That seemed to have been the briefing from the originator of the process, John Key and I just do not understand why that happened. They are not conflicting “either/or” design elements as demonstrated by the Falklands flag below. I totally concur that we were well overdue to review the use of the Union Jack on our national flag, but I simply cannot make the jump that a symbol of our native flora and fauna was the appropriate symbol to replace the Union Jack.

Falklands flag The Falklands are happy with the Union Jack exactly where ours is, but there is a real difference between us and the Falklands. The Falklands are an overseas British territory; New Zealand is an independent nation connected to Britain by being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, whose head is the Queen of England. New Zealand is not governed by Great Britain. However we do have a connected but independent link. Queen Elizabeth is named in our legal system as the Queen of New Zealand.

ERSo we do not really sail our ships under the protection of the Royal British navy, which sort of makes the Union Jack a bit redundant. But we do have a constitutional link to the Queen of England. When I submitted my first flag option, it was rejected before even getting to the flag selection panel. It was rejected because I had thought that a national flag should have reference to its constitutional head of state. I agreed that the Union Jack was inappropriate since we do not come under the governance of Britain, so I included the more appropriate E:R crest of the Queen of New Zealand. REJECTED.

No one denies that John Key is a good salesman. But he is a currency and investment salesman. We know that he could sell money to the eskimos and acknowledge that he has successfully managed the New Zealand investment portfolio on our behalf, although the unproductive residential prices in Auckland, soaring at the same time as the value of productive dairy farms is crashing, does present a real challenge going forward.

But John Keys wanted to step up in the sales world from the currency, investment and insurance sales status to becoming a card-carrying member of the Madison Avenue Advertising Guru set. He wanted to be the guy that could rebrand a nation. It would not be up there with rebranding Coke, but it would be worth a column in the back of Advertising Age which would be a good start. He set the brief, he controlled the design process. He got his white fern on a compromised black background and neither Britain nor the Queen had any role in the design.

But a true MadMan gets inside the target market’s soul and touches the heart. A significant response in the polls is that the alternative just doesn’t seem like a real flag. It seems just like a product brand; and a fairly generic, compromised one as well. That would probably be the critical group 3 talking. For the Maddison Avenue explanation of that focus group response read “the target market is, emotionally, highly-invested in their national flag and the design alternative has not touched their heart and soul.”

For John Key has not understood the emotional attachment to the Queen of the critical group 3. A sweet little old woman living half a world away who, at 90, is still sharp as a tack. A sweet little old woman with her prince charming grandson and his beautiful wife waiting in the royal wings. John Keys may well run a good little business down here, but he is not royalty, he is not head of the family. When he prepared his brief on the rebranding of what he thought was ‘our business’, he forgot that we are at our heart and soul a family business, and he left our royal family off the flag brief. She may be a 90-year-old woman, but she is the only head of state that we have got. And as I said on my first submission, a flag needed our constitutional legitimacy to be demonstrated to the world. That is a fundamental role of a national flag. The royal family of Great Britain is our family. For that reason I believe John Key will lose his big entry pitch into Madison avenue. His rebranding of New Zealand will fail. When a salesman loses his big pitch, he loses his mojo.

So when the flag is run up the flagpole on Friday morning, Mr Key, ask not for whom the flag flies, it flies for thee.

Beat you John Key!Footnote: it’s Friday and the status quo flag flies high and proud. Group 1: delighted, Group 2: deflated; the deciding Group 3 see an opportunity wasted with a shallow design.




Flag_Take 2Next time just listen to me, I’m the AdMan, John, you stick to selling money.

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The new New Zealand

Ok, so if my 2016 resolution is to removing the presence of Great Britain on our constitutional flag, and as of today that resolve is intact, then I must prepare my mind for the logical extension of removing the Royal Family of Great Britain as the monarch of New Zealand. That done, we either replace the Windsor family with a New Zealand-based monarch or we establish a republic. In days of yore that would have meant war. But not today; I am pretty certain that the Queen has given our Prime Minister the royal nod over a picnic lunch that the royal we would be very comfortable with not having us hanging around her apron strings any longer.

Which actually brings me to my holiday read which was a very good book called “Shantaram”. It is a novel based on the experiences of Australian author and former criminal, Gregory Roberts, when he was living in India. He had escaped from Melbourne prison and made his way, via New Zealand, to the streets of Bombay. Initially he was repulsed by the slums of Bombay but eventually, to avoid the authorities, he had no option but to live in one. And even that option was a highly prized one for the street people in Bombay. A family missed out when he was allotted a shack. He came to genuinely love the people and the lifestyle of the slums; there was a system of community support and justice that put the outside world to shame. Domestic violence, religious fights, natural disasters of fire and monsoon floods were all dealt with and resolved communally. Their slum leader was appointed out of respect. He had no elected title of mayor, governor or senator nor inherited title of prince, duke or lord, but his wisdom ruled the 25,000 living in that one slum. His decisions were not questioned. His justice was accepted without challenge. And even though Roberts eventually made his way from the slums to a luxury apartment, courtesy of his services to a local crime boss, his heart and soul remained with the people of the slum.

Dharavi slum, Mumbai

Dharavi slum, Mumbai

That is not just the wishful imagination of a novel writer, even based on his own experience. I recalled a very serious documentary on television some years ago researching the difference between the slums of India and the ghettos in the West. The documentary concluded that the attitudes to life between the two groups could not have been more polar. The slum dwellers in India were a happy community which worked co-operatively, self-regulated and self-resourced. I would not be so naive as to suggest that, because it is communal, there is no crime. There will be thieves, but the crime of thievery depends entirely on who writes the laws. How much taxation and spending of taxation by the politicians and bureaucrats is thievery in fact if not in legal name. The 40,000 person bureau bash in the December Paris Climate change summit a case in point. There was a philosophical reference in the book about doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Some thievery will fall into that category.

Chicago Cabrini Green

Chicago Cabrini Green

On the other side of the world,  those observed in the far more civilised, high rise ‘housing estate’ ghettos in the West lived a desperate and miserable existence. The residents relied on the faceless state for their welfare income that purchased the basics in life and they, in fact, prey on one another. The documentary concluded that the difference was that in the West the under-privileged were placed in high-rise apartments, physically separating each family, whereas the slums in India were on a single level and families lived and interacted very intimately. I would have thought the reverse to be true; I would have thought that a sense of privacy would make people happier than being so exposed, but in fact it would seem that the exact opposite is the reality.

Living in little boxes all stacked on top of each other seems to result in disconnection, loneliness and despair. Being dependent on social welfare creates a sense of worthlessness. Communal living, even in a slum, brings connection, co-operation and actually happiness. Living in a shack alongside and connecting to thousands of other shacks appears, according to both the TV documentary and to Gregory Roberts, the best out of people. The high-rise ghettos are the solution of the big, out of touch bureaucracies; the Indian slums are organic, unofficial community solutions to housing needs.

So, back to the new New Zealand. When we revise our constitution, our fundamental basis for organising and running our country, should we review the whole concept? As a modern western society, are we getting too bureaucratic? Bureaucracy has a natural desire to grow bigger. Bigger is better they claim; more efficiency and greater scales of economics. High rise housing projects need big bureaucracies to create them and consequently bigger bureaucracies to create greater civilisations. Well that is the bureaucrats’ viewpoint. The counter argument is that the bigger the bureaucracy the further they are removed from the community. Their primary objective then becomes the growth of the bureaucracy rather than the well being of the community outside their insular universe. They can even operate almost independently of the democratically elected representatives of the people. Politicians may come into politics with the most noble of intentions but their ability, within any voting cycle, to change the way a bureaucracy moves tends to frustrate their noble intent. Bureaucrats tend to be career people, protected by New Zealand’s largest and most powerful union, the PSA with a membership of 58,000. A daunting prospect for the new member from South Otago.

In the creating of a new New Zealand, a post-colonial New Zealand, beginning with the flag change, one thing that we will know for sure and certain is that the bureaucrats will try to control the process; to achieve their own agenda. And we also know that agenda will be to create a greater bureaucracy. Ask Auckland citizens how their super city has gone? Once a super bureaucracy has been created, it is very hard to dismantle it. So as we face our new New Zealand, we need to be alert to what we want to achieve. And I would suggest teh one thing we do not want is a larger bureaucracy. If a civilisation is judged by the condition of its poorest citizens then the comparison between Chicago and Mumbai is very relevant. Put to us on paper, we would all unanimously say that to build housing for the poor and to pay them a benefit is the civilised and Christian way to approach poverty. But that approach does not take into account the destruction to the soul from the sense of hopelessness of being reliant for basic survival on the decisions a faceless, heartless bureaucracy.

Slum-dwellers have very little, tangibly, but they do have self respect, a sense of community and a sense of self sufficiency. They have a soul. I would never want to see a Mumbai slum in New Zealand, but even less would I want to see the soul-less high-rise ghetto housing projects. A more solid, organised housing construction is no justification for the loss of hope and self-worth through bureaucratic dependency.

When we do decide to change our whole constitutional identity we need to do so in a way that will facilitate the social structure that we want to represent our new nation. Forget the ‘trickle down’ mantra, we need to build the new New Zealand from the ground up. First we need to decide how the underprivileged class, those without capital, without family inheritance, without the resources for a meaningful, career-creating education will survive first, then build up from there. I do not have a solution but I know it must be achieved in a way that enables the self-worth of self-support rather than soul-destroying bureaucratic dependence.

The underprivileged need to be attended to first in the new republic. They could be helped with building materials but then left to build their communities themselves. They may be offered the means to grow, farm or catch food, but then left with the task of turning those means into food on the table. They may be provided with the means to manufacture clothing but left to the communal task of clothing themselves. Provided with the means of gaining an education but leaving them the option of taking the opportunity or not. The new  republic could even allow such communities a level of self-governance within their community.

Creating hope and self worth in our most vulnerable communities is all about reducing the size and the intrusion of bureaucracy into their lives. Of creating communities that can take responsibility for their own survival and development and therefore retain and develop their sense of hope and purpose.

For hope and purpose are the essence of humanity. And it is the progress of humanity that should take precedence in the new New Zealand.


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I Like eggs

Well, this is the final voting week for the decision about which flag we want in the big flag-off with our current flag.

I did not vote. It was not a pre-planned protest; I did actually intend voting, but finally something niggled at me. A one-word question that had been raised earlier in the debate by many people haunted me as I took pen to voting slip. “Why?”

If we had voted to become a republic and break off all constitutional links with Britain, that would be a good reason to change our flag. If we had an internal revolution and abandoned democracy for communism, that would also be a good reason. But if, constitutionally speaking, we have not changed anything, then why change our constitutional flag?

red kiwiIf it is just because we want a design that is a bit more ‘marketable’, a bit more ‘on trend’ then we can have a corporate logo that is officially used to assist products and services to leverage off New Zealand’s profile. In fact we already have one of those, the stylised red kiwi on a blue triangle. By all means if that corporate image needs freshening up, then do so. But that is not the constitutional flag. They are two completely different subjects.

And if the organisers of the design referendum are trying to engage the new generation, perhaps they should have taken one or two of the young generations ideas into the finals.

LOTRWhile we had stars, kiwis and ferns coming out of our ears, the one New Zealand image that most strongly connects with the current generation is the Lord of the Rings. One youngster identified this and put in his or her concept for the One Ring to rule them all. That is very marketable. It leverages off the Lord of the Rings movies’ massive global presence; it resonates with a large consumer group; it puts NZ in the same competitive marketplace as Hollywood. In a word it ticks all the commercial boxes if commercial boxes are the ones the organisers wanted ticked. Where was this in the decision-making mix. They could have arranged a professional artist to render up the concept and we would have had a real contender.


I like eggsBut possibly the most unlucky design not to have made the cut was submitted by a young Korean-New Zealander, Jeong Hyuk Fidan; surely the face of the future in NZ if we are to continue to be a global golf powerhouse with all the commercial leveraging that comes with that. Jeong designed the exploding egg. Jeong’s rationale, quite simply, is that New Zealanders like eggs and explosions are cool.

This is the Playstation generation. This is a game app on a flag. Look, it even sings the national anthem. It has delightful alliteration. This design would go viral. New Zealand would be a game on 50% of the smart phones in the world. Ten million YouTube hits in 24 hours. This is the future; just think of the merchandising opportunities. But did we get to see Jeong’s creation on our final selection list? We did not. We did not because it did not ‘fit the brief’; because it was ‘outside the box’; because it would make a mockery of the whole process. All three, to my mind, are precisely the reasons why it should have been in the final selection.

We got ‘inside the box’, we got ‘within the brief’ and we got as boring as batshit. We got commercial designs not constitutional designs and that is why so many, like me, in the end disengaged with the process. For this design competition was presented as a need for changes to a constitutional flag when there was, in fact, no constitutional change to validate any flag change and provide a rational brief for designers.

So my vote, which of course remains invalid as it is only on this blog not on the official voting form, is for Jeong’s eggselent exploding egg. Out of the mouths of children, creative genius.


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Fun with flags2

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.

Australian Flag

Australian Flag

Current NZ flag

NZ flag






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:

French flag

Dutch Flag





So, which is the French flag and which is the Netherlands flag?

Italian FlagHungary Flag






One of these is the Hungarian flag the other Italy.

Mexico flag

India flag





One Mexico, the other India

Ivory Coast flag Ireland flag





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.





Fun with flags

Its all fun and games until someone loses.

When designs for a new flag were called about 10,000 of us got our digital crayons out and had some fun. But now that the 10,000+ have become 40, it’s no longer any fun for the 10,000. Soon it will be 4 and then it will be ‘the one’ and the ranks of the ‘not having fun’ will be everyone except ‘the one’.

And even if ‘the one’ gets the final nod as a replacement flag, will ‘the one’ still be having fun after the party is over? Or will he/ she be like a one-test All Black boring everyone they meet and trying to score free drinks in bars and invites to dinner parties for decades to come? 

So how about the Government? Are they having fun through this process? They did, after all, put a lot of effort and money into it. A happy government is always a numbers game and I am not sure there is much numerically induced fun for the government, whatever the outcome.

When we choose the ‘one’ in our first referendum the majority, collectively, will still most probably have chosen one of the other three; then in the final selection against the status quo, it will again be a split vote. So if a new flag is chosen, the number of people who voted for something different from ‘the one’ along the way will be quite substantial. I wouldn’t count on too many free drinks if I were the designer of any new flag, nor too many votes generated from this exercise for National in the next election.

But if we stay with the existing flag then will be no one happy. The supporters of the status quo will bemoan the wasted money and effort, the supporters of change will bemoan that change did not happen. The government depends for its continued support on making people happy, so a ‘status quo’ decision would be really, really bad news for them going into the next election. If the dairy prices fail to rise, house prices fail to drop and the All Blacks lose the World Cup, the Rugby Championship Cup and the Bledisloe Cup before the 2017 election, then the flag might just be the thing that is draped over National’s electoral coffin. Just sayin’ is all, most certainly not wanting. If I was in National’s strategic planning department, I think I would have been opting for a flag referendum tied into the election which is when a distraction might be most needed and which could have provided the theme of an heroic advertising campaign for National to lead New Zealand to a brave new future. “Change our flag and everything will come right!”

But that’s all academic now; the decision will be made well in advance of the next election and if we are to spend $28 million on it, I may as well try to get my $7 worth of fun and make my own shortlist of four, in priority order which gives my #1 pick.

2166-kyle-lockwood-silver-fern-nz-flag-final-cr-1.png1: This effectively replaces the Union Jack with a fern, retaining the familiarity of the existing colour scheme and the southern cross. I think this is the one that will settle into the kiwi psyche most quickly. The Union Jack is symbolically no loss and the Brits won’t take offence. I don’t think Britain ever really wanted us, they just wanted Australia as a prison then found that Australia had a little brother that seemed to come with the deal. We were colonised in 1840 at the insistence of sequential governors of New South Wales and then given our independence back just 13 years later. Then in 1973 they told us to just bugger off with our lamb and butter as they preferred to shop at the local butcher and dairy.

Huihui-SNIP.PNG2. A Euro-blend of the red white and blue colour scheme with the Maori flag. Graphically quite appealing but it would take a lot more getting used to than #1 and would be a lot more challenging to get global recognition with what is very much an in-house design rather than one with existing international familiarity.


14125-flag33. If the only objection to the existing flag is the Union Jack, then just get rid of it and keep only what’s left. Good pragmatic thinking; but the four stars do just seem to me a little lost in all that blue. Still a simple, strong graphic with a sound logic.



4. I couldn’t find a 4th worth talking about.  So I didn’t.

After initially leaning towards the black colour scheme I changed my mind completely during the process. Colour is created by light and, technically, black is not a colour, it is the complete absence of light and colour and, when you think about it, just looks very sombre. It would suit a funeral march national anthem. Red, white and blue just has a much more joyful feel about it; trombones, trumpets, piano accordions and five string guitars

I would have liked a Kiwi logo version to choose from but that didn’t happen. They were probably nervous about what might have to happen if the European imported rats and stoats succeeded in bringing the Kiwi to extinction outside of fenced nature parks.

And finally I would choose #1 over the status quo; but if any of the other designs were chosen as ‘the one’ then I would pause for thought. My #2 would be a very brave move and  a long-term one; and I am not sure the design has that longevity. It is very much a 20th century Gordon Walters graphic. Choosing #3 would be to just get rid of the Union Jack at any cost but without any positive replacement, so that’s a really hard to sell unless we just really hate Britain; which I don’t. Actually I think their Union Jack flag design is the best on the planet, but if we decide that its time to cut the apron strings then so be it, but not until we actually have something to replace it.

But in the end, what does a flag really matter? As a great poet once wrote:







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The flag debate in the clod (cold light of day)

When we were first asked to submit ideas for a new flag, given an endless supply of digital crayons and the prospect of immortality as the flag designer, I, like several hundred others, launched enthusiastically into a design which I then proceeded to post-rationalise.

I may have been pre-programmed to respond with enthusiasm having spent much of my working life in the advertising agency world where a CEO telling us that he wanted to change the company logo was as close as it got to being given a licence to print money. And as much as the CEO might also cleverly post-rationalise his decision, no-one was fooled; he was seeking corporate immortality. So when the agency came up with the brilliant idea of running a competition to ‘engage the target market in the process’ then it became printing money while getting someone else to do the work. Double bonus. John Key also decided to ‘engage the target market’ but he clearly had his own ideas on what the new flag would look like, if he gets his way.

And so let me review. I went (surprise, surprise) for a black flag with graphic fern front and centre and a token reference to the monarch with the ER emblem. In other words I picked up the very clear vibe of exactly what the CEO (John Key) clearly wanted (something as close to an All Blacks jersey without the sponsors’ logo as possible) and fed it back to him. Well, that is the easiest sell and also the one for which he is unlikely to quibble over the exorbitant bill. That is advertising client relationships 101.

ERI sent it off to the ‘flag  engagement’ website ( for the consideration of the judging panel (in the ad agency world that was usually the CEO’s wife) but I had it rejected for some protocol breach which I assume was to do with the E:R symbol being unavailable. The upside is that I can charge another $50,000 for removing it in version 2. Oh that’s right, I am not the ad agency this time, this is a freebie.

Someone independently looked at it and wondered why I had even put any Royal reference on the design as he was sure the whole point of the referendum was to get rid of royalty from our flag. I hadn’t thought that; I thought John Key was a big fan of the Royals?

So that rejection did give me motivation to sober up (metaphorically) and put it through the clod review. After the white-hot heat of the night, let me examine the brief/design/rationale in the cold light of day. So:

John Keys, on the Paul Henry show, said the big problem with the current flag was you could not wear it as an item of clothing, in the same way you could with a silver fern on black background design. So he is thinking that our political flag should be usable as a marketing tool. I think the Key flaw in the briefing is that the PM is not distinguishing between corporate identity and brand identity. Proctor and Gamble (P&G) owns and markets a number of brands. P&G is the solid corporate structure behind the brands. It gives credibility, through its status on the share market, to the brands that are marketed from underneath its umbrella. Braun, Gillette, Oral B, Pantone, Olay, Head and Shoulders etc.

In New Zealand we promote ‘made in NZ’ in the same way a corporate promotes ‘owned and operated by………….”. Made in New Zealand’  has, since 1987, been presented as a red  kiwi with white triangle border on a blue background. John Key sees the All Blacks as the strongest brand in our national stable and has clearly a preference to simply upgrade the white fern on black background from All Blacks logo to New Zealand’s official flag. But that is no more valid a reason to use the All Blacks branding for New Zealand’s flag as it would be for P&G to use Pantone’s branding as P&G’s corporate branding.

So, let us review the briefing:

Q1:   Do we want our nationhood defined by and restricted to a sports team?

A: I would think even the most avid All Blacks supporter would want our nationhood to be represented on our national flag as being much more than a rugby game.

So let us return to the base question, is there any reason, other than sligning our nationhood with the All Blacks,  for changing our flag? Going back to the critic of my original design who was quite convinced that the main reason for this flag change is to delete any reference to the Royals. Maybe he was right? Maybe it is just a start point towards moving towards a republic. Delete the Union Jack and any association with Britain and we are being conditioned for removing Britain constitutionally. Perhaps John Key is just the smiling lion when it comes to the Royals? Is the ‘popular’ option of adopting the current world champions logo as our official flag merely a smokescreen for an ulterior motive?

Well there are no doubt pros and cons for the republican argument, but changing the flag as a preliminary decision is surely putting the cart before the horse. Flag design change would come after a decision, through referendum, to establish a republic or independent kingdom or whatever John Key has in mind. Certainly not before. But before I vote “No Change” as a protest against the flag change being a Trojan Horse hiding President Key, since we are spending $30 million on it anyway, is there any other reason why we should review our flag design?

Well there might be, actually. Jack Tame for TVNZ ran an informal survey in Times Square New York where he sought respondents from all continents and asked them if they recognised the NZ flag. Only two did (other than a Kiwi and an Aussie), but alarmingly the biggest issue by a U.S. mile was the high number of people who were certain it was Australia’s flag.

So, Q2:   Is there anything wrong with most people confusing our flag with Australia?

A: Well actually, YES!!!!! So in my review of the briefing, the #1 objective would be to distinguish our national identity from that of Australia. But in that case then I most certainly would NOT be advocating an “All Blacks” flag. It would be a humiliating concession to claim that the primary distinction between Australia and New Zealand is our rugby team, which has won about two thirds of the games between the two countries (although are 2:2 in World Cup titles).

So what do we need to review to distinguish ourselves from Australia without conceding existing international status?

1: I think we keep our Union Jack. That gives us the status of being globally connected through the British Commonwealth and the British Royal family. We should not concede that status to Australia and leave us looking like a banana republic. However, I do think that it should not fight our own national identity, so some toning down of the visual impact of the Union Jack could be preferable.

2: We need a symbol that is globally recognised as being typically New Zealand. That comes down to a clear choice between a fern and a kiwi. The fern is a branding device for most of our national sports teams and our national lamb exporter. The kiwi is the symbol, since 1987, of our national “made in NZ” endorsement. The New Zealand people are affectionately known as Kiwis. The fern may be synonymous with New Zealand through the sporting arena profiles, but the people from all walks of life, in all arenas whether science, military, sporting, commercial or whatever are known as kiwis. For me the Kiwi symbol wins the day.

Q3:   Is there anything wrong with the Southern Cross on the flag?

A:  Am I being petty when I tense up explaining to people who the NZ flag has 4 stars and Australia has 5 stars?

Whatever the answer, the Southern Cross is another feature that confuses our flag with that of Australia, and yet I would oppose getting rid of stars; I think they are a good design feature of a flag. And for some reason I wondered about the Matariki star cluster. The rising of this cluster has been traditionally identified by the Maori as signalling the start of the new year. It is the mid-point of winter months and presumably is the time when nature starts its regeneration process.

So I considered the idea of replacing the Southern Cross, a maritime navigational guide, with the Matariki which is a symbolic part of Maori tradition. The seven stars do provide something of a visual distinction, but more importantly, our flag should reference the Tangata Whenua and the influence of that culture in the uniqueness of 21st century New Zealand.

Kiwi flagSo, with all that in my re-briefing, here is the flag I designed. I have submitted it to the official flag evaluation people, and oh joy, my design this time has been accepted for consideration (as one of about 5,700 others). Having looked at the gallery there are a few not too bad designs amongst them. So the first job of bringing that down to four is a bit daunting. Then a popular vote reduces four to one, and then a final popular vote decides whether that is preferable to our existing flag. Something tells me familiarity will rule the day.



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New Zealand Flag: do we still think we are a colony?

The NZ flag debate really boils down to the presence of the British union jack and the blue ensign design; should it be on the New Zealand flag, yes or no?

The ‘no’s’ have a simple rationale. The blue ensign design inclusion of the union jack is an historical appendage dating back to when we were a colony of Britain in 1840 and to the almost total dependence we had on Great Britain as our primary buyer of our primary produce. That ended over two stages, firstly when New Zealand was granted independence in 1853 and secondly when Great Britain joined the European Union in 1973 and changed suppliers on us. But you do not put the flags of nations of which you once were a colony, or with which you once had a very strong commercial relationship, onto your flag. Since 1949, the relationship with Britain as a nation is that we are both in the Commonwealth of Nations and that we share a Royal family. Our allegiance to the Royal House of Windsor, which we share with fifteen other members of the Commonwealth of Nations, is a completely separate situation from our relationship with Great Britain.

Much of the support for retaining the union jack on our flag comes from a concern that deleting it may be disrespectful to the soldiers who gave their lives fighting for the country whose flag, at the time, contained the union jack in the upper left corner. Obviously most of those soldiers who fought in various conflicts over the last 100+ years are not here to explain their personal position and so others have assumed the authority to represent them in the debate.

The need for a flag in the first instance arose in the early 1830’s, prior to becoming a colony of Britain, so that our ships were not in breach of British navigation laws. Without a flag we could not trade by ship. So the decision was purely a commercial one. Nothing to do with war.

Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand

Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand

In 1834 the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was chosen in a vote of 25 Northern Maori chiefs and was gazetted as New Zealand’s first flag.




Boer war medal with United Tribes flag

Boer war medal with United Tribes flag

Interestingly, although the union jack was adopted after NZ became a colony in 1840, it was this United Tribes flag that appeared on the backs of medals presented to NZ soldiers during the 2nd Boer War in 1902. In our first external military conflict, NZ soldiers fought under their own flag of the united tribes, not under the union jack.





Flag of Great Britain

Flag of Great Britain

When NZ became a colony of Great Britain in 1840, the union jack, flag of Great Britain, then became our national flag onshore, denoting our status as a colony of Great Britain.




180px-Flag_of_New_Zealand_Government_Ships_1867.svgAt sea NZ was represented by British naval or maritime flags until the passing of the Imperial Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865 when NZ had to design its own ensigns. This design was adopted in 1867. In 1869 it was replaced with a flag replacing the NZ with a southern cross of 4 red stars with white border. This is our current flag although it was officially only to be used at sea at this time.


Current NZ flag

Current NZ flag

 NZ was officially given independence of governance in 1853. But independence was a sort of evolution rather than revolution. It was in 1902, 50 years after independence, that the current design was gazetted as New Zealand’s legal flag replacing the union jack.



The Commonwealth of Nations was established in 1949 from the 53 former colonies of Great Britain, now governed independently of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth is officially the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations but sixteen members of the Commonwealth of Nations, including New Zealand, also recognise the Queen as their official monarch in their own individual constitutions. Her title here is Queen of New Zealand. Independently she is also Queen of fifteen other countries in the Commonwealth.

Essentially New Zealanders were very comfortable being perceived as an outlying farm of the United Kingdom. Our population was dominated by people who either had been born in the United Kingdom, or whose parents or grandparents had been born there and bonds remained strong with ‘the old country’. Our flag reflected the close ties that we maintained, and in fact our economy depended on it. We were very vulnerable but we believed that with the union jack on our flag, Britain would always look after us.

So what a nasty shock we got when the mother country joined the European union in 1973 and told us it was high time we made our own way in the world. We had officially been given independence 120 years ago, in 1853, and Britain turned now to Europe for its farm produce.

Yet we still have the union jack, the flag of Great Britain on our national flag, on the flag our armed forces fight under  as though we are fighting for and representing Great Britain. The soldiers of the Boer war obviously related more to the United Tribes flag that appeared on their medals. But for soldiers since the first world war we need to clarify: did they fight for a flag? a uniform? for Britain? for New Zealand? for the Commonwealth? for a cause? for freedom?

The union jack itself did not appear on army uniforms. The badges on the NZ army uniforms represent what the soldiers were fighting under.

NZ Army crest

NZ Army crest

Officially NZ Army’s ultimate allegiance is to the Queen of New Zealand; the Crest of NZ Army recognises the allegiance to the Queen, but not in fact to Great Britain. They have a reference to the monarchy of New Zealand on their crest, but not a union jack.



Army cap badge

The general service cap badge worn during the first and second world wars has an unmistakable allegiance to New Zealand and the NZ monarch rather than to Great Britain.



Boer war

Boer war

Our armies also adopted the silver fern as a key design representation of who and what they were fighting for.


Our flag must accurately communicate who we are as a nation. We are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and Queen Elizabeth 11 is the head of that body. In addition, the Queen is the Monarch of NZ under NZ constitutional law. Our constitutional link goes directly from our government to the Queen; it does not go via the government of Britain.

The union jack flag of Great Britain is not the flag of the Royal Family of Windsor. The union jack on our flag is constitutionally wrong; its presence can no longer be justified on economic grounds as it could for the first 120 years of our independence.

The union jack must go.

Redesigning our flag:

The first priority for a flag design must be that it is distinctive. When flags are lined up on a poster, we do not want to blend in like a piece of wallpaper.

The first and most distinguishing design factor of a flag is the colour. Like it or not, countless millions of dollars of investment, one way or another, have gone into identifying New Zealand with the colour black.

If we want instant recognition of our flag as uniquely ours, we must use black. That is a simple black and white decision.

Then we need to consider the elements on the flag.

1) The four stars of the Southern Cross were the single common feature which guided all seafaring people from distant lands to this land, Maori, Dutch, British and Asian. This common element of all the people of New Zealand must appear.

2) The silver fern: one feature must represent the land itself. The silver fern has been worn overseas in war and peace, by soldiers and sportspeople, to represent our land for 120 years. The silver fern must appear on our flag.

3) Our constitutional head of state. The Queen of New Zealand is Queen Elizabeth 11, head of the Royal House of Windsor. This must be recognised on our flag.

4) Aotearoa. We were the land of the long white cloud long before a passing Dutch explorer decided to name us after a region of the Netherlands. Of course we have too much invested in the recognition of the New Zealand name to ignore it, but Aotearoa should be alongside the name New Zealand. This is not a token exercise in political correctness, Aotearoa is at the root of the history of this country and must be on our flag. New Zealand is the land of the long white cloud. Aotearoa should sit alongside the name of New Zealand.

NZ Flag_B Then nothing more. Any more elements would detract from the focus of our national image to the world.


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