The Great New Zealand Flag Debate

If you should find yourself stuck for ages in a queue to buy food, it’s probably because I’m at the counter trying to decide what to eat. When I do eventually order, I shall change my mind the moment it’s written down because an unbearable panic will have kicked in. It’s a typical Libra trait apparently, and I’m a sod for it, so be prepared to be in that queue for some time, sorry.

Now, poor decision-making is one thing when ordering eggs benedict – no, the muesli, hang on, bacon and eggs, no, scratch that, definitely eggs benedict – but it’s another when you are a whole nation and you’re faced with the option, and thereby a referendum, for a brand new flag.

So, this is the indecisive ditherer’s take on ‘The Great New Zealand Flag Debate’. Gird your loins…


The current NZ flag

I still don’t know which way to vote, well, obviously. This is because I do want New Zealand to have a new flag. I want one without the Union Jack in the corner, an unpleasant reminder of a colonial past. However, do I want the alternative that we’ve been offered?

In many ways I’m fascinated by colonisation, having closely studied the literature and writers born of colonialism and migration as part of my first MA. Also, I am an English woman who has migrated to a country that not only had to bear European settlers, but where a people lost their land and a shed load of human rights as a result. Therefore, I feel very much part of the aftermath of colonialism; I’m not responsible for it, but my life is steeped in it. My children embody it, being Maori with English accents.

Yet, I’m still kinda sorta proud of being British. I’m proud of British creativity, imagination and humour. I’m proud of the quirky way we do understatement and irony. I love British style, music and drama. I’m proud of a British literary legacy that is broad and far-reaching, from Shakespeare to Larkin to Mantel.

So, on the surface, I should be the sort of person who wants to retain that British emblem, the Union Jack, on the NZ flag.

I don’t. I really don’t.

See, there are loads of things about Britain that are Great, but there’s are a helluva lot that’s …well… not so much. Colonialism and all the evil that goes along with it included.

To many in New Zealand, the union Jack is the mark of a shameful past, one of theft and slaughter, all the trappings of one nation colonizing another. Many argue that New Zealand needs to make a break from that past. In fact, that’s what the flag debate is about more than anything it seems to me, getting rid of the Union Jack and preparing to leave the Commonwealth.

(I became especially keen to sever ties from the UK when they voted to join in with the bombing raids on Islamic State in Syria after the Paris attacks. Innocent people, children and babies are being killed by those bombs. That includes those poor wee souls washing up on beaches in Turkey as their parents go to desperate lengths to find them a safe place, just as I would for my children if our city was being bombed from every direction.)

But back to the flag…

I’m also extremely proud of my New Zealand citizenship. I’ve come to regard this country as home and am making a very happy life for myself and my family amongst people who are generally warm, kind, friendly, good-humoured, innovative and creative. I live in a really cool wee city and feel very safe here. I’ve fallen for a New Zealander and my children have a spiritual connection to the land and its people that I can only stand back and watch in wonder.

So, it should be an easy decision, especially when the alternative replaces the Union Jack with that very Kiwi symbol, a fern – vote for change.


The alternative design

But it isn’t an easy decision, and the reasons for that is the ludicrous process we’re being put through by the NZ government, what that process is costing us in terms of political distraction and many millions of NZD, and the man behind the process, New Zealand prime minister John Key. In my opinion, he is a man entirely motivated by money, his own ego, and whether or not he gets to play golf with Obama. I’m not going to spend too much time explaining just how awful John Key is as a Prime Minister when Green politician Gareth Hughes does it so eloquently here.

So, let me take a closer look at the aforementioned process:

  • It began with a national competition for flag designs that came up with designs such as th-2 and th-1 . Very funny, but at the same time… yeah, nah.
  • There was a complete absence of a true design ethic from professionals in the field who know what they’re doing. These people are called Vexillologists. No vexillologists have been consulted throughout the whole process, best to my knowledge anyway.
  • A random committee chose a range of flag designs that most closely resembled the sort of flag millionaire egotist John Key wanted – funny that…
  • Then there was a really weird vote where you had to list your favourite designs in order of preference, and then they were counted and discounted in such a way that I couldn’t be bothered to even try to understand because it just seemed so random and I completely switched off at that point, which I suspect I was meant to, because, you know, fuck it, life’s too short and I’ve got a load of laundry to be getting on with, a living to earn and the kids’ dinner to prepare. Somehow the flag design everyone I know openly supported but the PM didn’t want, Red Peak, was voted out in this process.


    Red Peak

  • Now there’s going to be another vote where we choose between the winner of the first vote and our current flag.
  • If only 51% of the New Zealand population vote for a change, we’ll end up with the alternative, even though it is a massive decision effecting many generations to come. Wouldn’t a higher percentage be more appropriate, representing a firmer consensus?
  • This is all costing New Zealand $26 million. That’s just the consultation process and the two referendums. If the new flag is voted in, it will cost further millions to make all the subsequent changes, even if this is done over time.
  • The new design lacks any kind of imagination, beauty, real significance and has already earned itself the name ‘The Tea-Towel’.
  • New Zealand remains a member nation of the Commonwealth, so we may be separating New Zealand from the emblem of its colonial past, but not the roots of its colonial past (ffs).
  • This whole process has been pandering to the whim of a rich white man, who wore the alternative flag on his lapel on Waitangi day – meaningless – it isn’t a flag.


    JK – wearing a flag design with a fern that weirdly resembles the shape of a ponytail…


If we waited, kept the old flag with its multiple flaws this time round, we may find ourselves voting in a more important referendum later on: that is, becoming a republic. Seems to me that the removal of the Union Jack from the flag of New Zealand would then hold real meaning. And that’s a referendum worth 26 mill of anyone’s money. Actually, isn’t that the debate we should be having now?

I’ve decided then, definitely Eggs Benedict and a vote to keep the current flag. I want to wait, see a design that is both elegant and significant, and one that doesn’t remind me of the prime minister who turned New Zealand from the largely egalitarian and caring society I shifted to a decade ago, into the corrupt capitalism-rules-ok country that New Zealand has become.


3 thoughts on “The Great New Zealand Flag Debate

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