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  • Fri, 20, Nov, 2015 - 5:00:AM

Why we shouldn't change the New Zealand flag

Whether we like it or not, the flag referendum is now upon us, forcing us to rank the five shortlisted alternatives from best-of-a-bad-bunch to worst. A distracting non-issue that has overstayed its welcome, the flag debate won’t be over until March 2016 when the second referendum has been completed. Approximately 27 million dollars later.

I’m quite obviously opposed to changing our flag. My favouring of the traditional Union Jack and Southern Cross hybrid wasn’t a consciously made decision, but a gut instinct strongly felt from the moment the question was raised. “Shall we change the New Zealand flag?” the Prime Minister asked. “No,” my heart said, loudly, before my brain had a chance to interfere.

As it turned out, my mind and my emotions agreed. Why would we change the very fabric (pun intended) of our nationhood? And why now? Our current flag is the one I grew up knowing. It screams ‘home’ to me. Flying in and seeing the giant blue flag furling in the wind at the Auckland International Airport is one of my favourite things. Anachronisms aside, I’m attached to our flag.

Logically, I know that the presence of the Union Jack is intensely problematic. Our colonial history is hardly a happy one, and by virtue of my mixed bloodlines the symbol of my ancestors and the symbol of my ancestors’ oppressors is one and the same. But the cross in the corner of our flag has admittedly never screamed out ‘Union Jack’ to me. It has always just been ‘the cross in the top left corner of our flag’. In fact, as I knew the Union Jack on our flag before I’d ever seen the British flag, as a child I felt that we owned the ‘cross thing’ and, wasn’t it strange that the British also used it?

Of course, a child’s interpretation of a flag is no reason to retain it, and in fact, as a progressive millennial, I probably could be persuaded to change our national emblem if there was an alternative design that was actually up to the task. But, as many New Zealand designers have expressed, the shortlisted alternatives are, simply, awful. The Red Peak may buck the trend, with its clean lines, uncomplicated design and impressive back-story, but the others are dreadful.

Three cartoonish silver ferns on split colour backgrounds, two with the Southern Cross thrown in for good measure and a koru that somewhat resembles a monkey tail. These images do not represent my country, my whakapapa, or my history. The design and symbolism of the Red Peak flag position it light years ahead of the other four – which, ironically were selected by a supposedly “representative” panel – but it still doesn’t feel quite right to me.

How hard would it have been to ask New Zealand artists and designers to contribute their designs? Or to allow the population to vote on the shortlist online, rather than allowing an unelected panel of twelve that contained no designers or artists, eleven middle-aged-or-older people and only one young person, two Maori, and more men than women to make the final decision of which flags would be included in the shortlist?   

Why shouldn’t we change our flag? Because the process has been fatally flawed from the outset. The people didn’t ask for change, the Prime Minister foisted it upon us. Hardly anyone turned up to the road show of public hui to discuss it. No designers or artists were consulted. The panel was appointed rather than democratically elected, and only representative in the most tokenistic sense; it certainly didn’t represent young people. Unsurprisingly, the resulting short-listed designs do not represent the best possible options for New Zealand. Surely nothing but the best option should be good enough to represent us.

If we’re going to do it, we have to do it properly. So let’s vote. Let’s vote not to change the flag, and vow to do it properly when – and only when – the people truly want change.


  • Flag Debate /
  • New Zealand /
  • New Zealand Flag /
  • Red Peak /
  • Maori /
  • Democracy /
  • John Key /
  • Politics /
  • Aotearoa /
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Comments ( 2 )

  • ASteve80's picture

    ASteve80 - Thu, 2015-12-03 14:37

    Totally agree not to change the flag... But not so much with this sentence; "Our colonial history is hardly a happy one, and by virtue of my mixed bloodlines the symbol of my ancestors and the symbol of my ancestors’ oppressors is one and the same". Implying 'the British' were oppressors, is a bit like saying all Germans were Nazis, or still holding a grudge against all Germans because of WWII. Or the Danish because of what the Vikings did to my ancestors. Or the French, Spanish, Romans and Greeks. Colonialism brought both pros and cons. The impact on Maori wasn't 100% negative. The main reason I have for not changing the flag is that I haven't heard a single good reason why we should. All of the reasons put forward are weak and arguable. "It looks like Australia's"? As if every other flag in the world doesn't look a lot like someone else's. Can you spot the difference between Poland and Indonesia? Or Hungary and the Ivory Coast? "It doesn't represent all cultures"? Neither do the US or British flags; they're pretty multicultural too. Same with France, Germany and Italy... In fact most countries are just as multicultural as New Zealand thesedays; but nobody else is proposing that they change their flag. "We're not Britain"? No; but lots of us have British ancestry and 250,000 of us were born there. Our culture is also predominantly British. All of the things Kiwis like to claim as their own (rugby, cricket, pies, beer, fish and chips, etc) are in fact British. Same with us being predominantly Christian.
  • Villainesse Editor's picture

    Villainesse Editor - Sun, 2015-12-06 10:15

    The impact of colonisation on Maori was fairly devastating. For further reading on privilege (the ways in which race can grant arbitrary advantage or disadvantage) see the No Filter article 'Checking my white privilege'.
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