Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has reignited the flag debate, two years after a national referendum rejected the idea of a new flag. The restarting of the flag debate came after he called on Australia for reasons I am not yet clear on, to change their own flag – imagine that, a(n acting) New Zealand Prime Minister telling Australia to change its flag – because New Zealand had apparently had its flag longer and the Australians had merely copied us.
I actually support changing the flag. There is however a simple reason why I refused to support the referendum in 2016 – it was too sudden for many New Zealanders and raised a bright red flag: why now? What was the then Prime Minister John Key trying to hide or divert our attention from? It just all seemed suspicious.
But also, this is the flag that thousands of New Zealanders fought and died for. This is the flag that my Grandmother’s brother Lance Corporal Eric Dennis Green died for. Whilst the wartime generation is still alive, this is not the time to change that flag.
However, the correct procedures I believe were followed for having a flag referendum. The referendum was to happen in two stages:
- Ask whether the public want a flag change or not – this would be a simple YES/NO referendum. It would be binding, meaning whatever outcome would have to be respected and acted on by the Government
- ASSUMING the answer is YES, then ask from the two most popular designs, which flag should be our new one
None of the designs in the 2015 competition, or the two that were shortlisted should New Zealand have said yes, were inspiring in the least. In fact Red Fern looked more like a corporate logo than anything else.
I have had thoughts about what a flag could look like. One idea that I have had would be the outline of a Kea (nestor notabilis), New Zealand’s cheeky and inquisitive alpine parrot whose behavioural characteristics I think nicely sum up how New Zealanders aspire to be – social, inquisitive about the world around them and perhaps a tad cheeky.
It will however have to happen at an appropriate time. The earliest such occasion that I can think of would be the death of Queen Elizabeth II, our reigning sovereign. At that point it would be appropriate to go through the full rigarmole – seeing if the people of New Zealand wish to set about overhauling the constitutional arrangements, changing the flag, and then adhering to their wishes, whatever they may be.
So, the day of a new flag is coming. It was a premature dawn on the idea in 2016 and New Zealanders knew and understood it then. But that dawn is coming – it just might be another several years.