About three years ago, I came across a group on Facebook called “Change the New Zealand Flag”. This was the first I’d heard of the flag change movement, which has been going since at least the 1980s, if not earlier. Now, in 2015, the referendum will decide which of the Final Four should compete with the old flag, and hoo boy, has it been a wild ride. Not because the designs in and of themselves are actually exciting — oh no, it’s because the antis have come out of the woodwork, and beating away the arguments made by naysayers has become, for some, a constant battle. As a person who is quite honestly pro-flag change, I’m going to outline some of these arguments.
Our great-grandfathers fought for our flag. If we change it, we’ll lose part of our history.
No, they didn’t, and no, we won’t. The New Zealand flag wasn’t actually settled on for quite a long time in our history. From 1835 to 1902 the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was flown, and in 1902, we adopted the naval ensign the Royal Navy used to distinguish ships bound for or returning from New Zealand. It wasn’t until 1939 that this flag was actually flown in battle — during the ANZAC years the flags flown were the Union Jack or the United Tribes or other symbols of the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps.
What this boils down to is that soldiers past and present did not fight for a flag, they fought for the nation and for the freedom of its people.
If we take the Union Jack off our flag, we will lose our Commonwealth protection.
The types of people who usually say this, in my experience, have usually put it forward as some kind of secret legal knowledge, coupled with conspiracy theories about how John Key wants to shape us into a republic and make himself president. While I enjoy a bit of Key-bashing as much as anyone else who didn’t vote him in, these ideas are ludicrous.
Of the 53 countries and territories in the Commonwealth, more than half have changed their flags and none have been booted from the Commonwealth or had some sinister reptilian-overlord agenda take place. South Africa, Canada and Jamaica’s flags have all become stellar international successes, and of the sovereign nations (not territories) within the Commonwealth, only three still have a Union Jack on their flags: us, Australia and Fiji.
The new flags look like corporate logos more than flags. We’re a country, we don’t need rebranding.
Brands are not just used by big, evil corporations. They are used by not-for-profits, by churches, by charity organisations and, yes, by nations. Any Olympics opening ceremony or meeting at the United Nations confirms this. You may disagree that the Final Four accurately represent New Zealand, or even that a people and its identity cannot be represented by a piece of cloth, but the fact remains that many people feel our current branding is outdated and doesn’t represent us as a modern nation-state. For myself and many others, the current flag is nothing more than a naval ensign, and doesn’t really stir much in the way of patriotism outside of ANZAC Day services and awkward moments when we’re confused with Australia at international sporting events.
Bringing up Canada again, many of these arguments and grumbles were made about their flag change before it happened. It was likened to the branding of a popular tin of toffees; the maple leaf was “too corporate” or “too much like a sports team” to be something for the whole nation. Now, it’s one of the most proudly sported, and widely recognised, flags on travellers’ backpacks.
John Key is using this to distract from the shady TPPA. It’s just his pet project.
This complaint is related to the one about losing our Commonwealth status, mainly because it’s usually followed by conspiracy theories and relentless Nat-bashing. Again, this complaint serves only to derail the conversation.
I don’t like how the TPPA is being done in secret, and I don’t like some of the potential implications, but every time I’ve talked to someone involved with economics, like a distinguished professor or someone who actually works in the field, it seems like most people don’t really know what they’re on about. Without making this article about the TPP itself (look, see, it’s derailing!!), I have to point out that 1) policy change isn’t always a sinister cover-up, and 2) this movement has been around for a while. Labour talked about changing the flag when they were in power a while back, and Māori Party MPs have also pushed for change.
It’s so much money that could go elsewhere.
$26 million is a lot of money. But in terms of the government budget? It’s not all that much. In 2015, the government put $1.7 billion into health. The flag money would raise it to $1.726 billion. Not a big difference. While I agree that more money and attention needs to go into things like child poverty, injecting money into that kind of area is not necessarily going to solve all problems.
It’s a distraction from Key’s blunders and mistakes.
Similar to the complaint about this all being a literal “false flag operation” to deflect attention from the TPPA, people have complained that this is a government circus designed to distract us from bigger issues. While there may be truth to this, I would actually point my finger at the media, and ourselves, more than the government. A lot of people are interested in the flag debate, which is why it’s in the news so often. There are also other things going on. One major event or piece of legislation does not preclude others from being legitimate concerns or being processed in parliament. As much of a circus as I think the mainstream media is (and our government), and as much as I dislike Key as well, I don’t think the flag thing is some smokescreen to hide his blunders and eerily sinister pocket-lining. In my opinion, he already weasels his way out of confrontation when reporters ask him the hard questions — he doesn’t need a flag referendum to do that for him.
So what now?
In the last few days, I’ve seen another flag-related Facebook group pop up, this time encouraging people to boycott the Final Four referendum because they don’t like any of the flags chosen by the panel. Personally, I think this shows people don’t really understand the process. Firstly, a non-vote doesn’t count. A better form of activism would be going into the Final Four referendum and using stickers to show which flag you’d rather have. Secondly, if you’d rather keep the old flag, wait until the next referendum when it is pitted against the favourite of the Four. There is no reason to throw your toys and boycott the first referendum. We have our say coming up and we have the right to make our voices heard. You have a vote; use it.