2. What’s wrong with the flag we’ve got?Nothing really, if you look at the style and the colours on its own – it’s actually quite a nice flag, (though others disagree, citing aesthetics, design etc). Nor do I see anything wrong with the Union Jack itself – it’s a great flag for Britain. So as well as those for whom the flag has real meaning, I can understand people simply liking the flag and not wanting it to change, or those who wouldn’t mind if it was changed just a little.
The problem is, if we change the current design only a little, it will still feel like a British flag, rather than a New Zealand one. That might not matter to some – especially those from Britain, but consider what this means to Maori, generations of Pakeha who know themselves only as New Zealanders, or all the different migrants from around the world that make up New Zealand. There are people in each of those groups who genuinely like and respect the flag, but there are also many others who don’t, and our flag should be something we're all proud of.
For example, some people want the Maori flag as our national flag. Although it belongs in New Zealand, it wouldn't feel like my flag, because it shows pride in being Maori. Considering most of our flag is not derived from here, and shows pride in "being British", that doesn't feel right either. The reality is that only some of us can have pride in the Union Jack (and it's unlikely those numbers will increase). It seems wrong to show another country as the most prominent thing, when our flag should allow every one of us to feel pride in this country. A national flag we can all identify with has the power to unite us. There is evidence the current flag can also divide us, and it is short-sighted to dismiss the whole flag-change debate as "not a priority".
Put simply, our flag is more about Britain than about us. We do have a British heritage, but the New Zealand Coat of Arms (a very good reminder of our history) shows a partnership made under the Crown, between the European settlers on one side, and Maori on the other. From that union could have come our own unique flag that would represent all New Zealanders, without the favour or exclusion of the flag that we have.
Alternatively, the flag of the United Tribes (in recognised use when the Treaty was signed), could rightly have been retained as the New Zealand national flag. Instead, the Union Jack was made the official flag. (Note that Maori had lived here for several centuries, before the British arrived). Far from being a minority (and somehow less important, as some still think), the Maori population outnumbered the new settlers by a huge majority at that time. (Just imagine any country doing the same thing to us today and you'll begin to understand). Despite it being clear Maori were not happy with this affront, and Hone Heke showing his anger by chopping the British flag down several times, it was the British way that prevailed. A Maori flag now would never work, but the least we could do is have a new flag that encompasses us all.
The Aussies and usThe Union Jack remained our national flag from 1840 until 1902, when it was replaced by the flag we have now. Officially, our flag is known as the New Zealand Ensign, and is described as "the British Blue Ensign of the Royal Naval Reserve, with the addition of the Southern Cross". So the red stars are "ours", but the rest of our flag is entirely a British design.
We think of it as being similar to Australia’s flag, but in fact there are a large number of flags that have the same blue background with the Union Jack in the top corner, plus the ones that have the Union Jack with a red or other colour background.
This is most obvious when some of these remaining "colonial" flags are seen together, and presumably each country was given the basic design, upon which they could add their own personal touch – in our case, the Southern Cross stars. Contrary to belief, the blue was not designed to represent our sea or sky, but is simply part of the British flag design we were given. When New Zealand became an independent Dominion (1907), we just continued on with this design as our official flag, whereas almost all of the other Commonwealth countries have changed from the original British-prescribed flag. [Make sure you click on the links above]. You can see some designs the Australians have considered for a new flag at ausflag.com.au.
It is incorrect to say "other countries don't change their flag", and a timeline of national flags throughout the world (via Index) also makes this clear. Some flag changes have been minor, some more radical, but there are many countries with flags much newer than our own. Even the most-established flags from older nations were not immune from change in their earlier years. New Zealand is a relatively young country, and we have yet to design our own national flag. When we do, then that flag should live on for many generations to come. In the meantime, we present ourselves to the world with a flag designed not by us, but mostly by Britain on our behalf. That is surely at odds with our more-than-capable image.
But what about Britain?Changing the flag doesn’t make us a republic, and the connection with Britain is not suddenly forgotten. If we continue to remember our British heritage as suggested (on Page 1), then our two countries will still be like a distant part of the family. It’s just that the younger nation has long since grown up and left home, and many of us are ready to acknowledge that.
For some of us, it’ll be good to feel more kindly towards Britain, once their presence on our flag is no longer cause for resentment. (Chances are, there are a few Brits who wish they could have their flag all to themselves as well). We are a separate country with our own separate identity – proud to be New Zealanders, and our flag should reflect that. Wanting our own independent flag is just like the normal progression of growing up, and is no more an insult to Britain than daughters who marry and change their name. They don't need our flag to show pride in Britain – that's their flag's job. During the London Olympics, a British commentator said, "And there's the New Zealand flag – or it will be....". It was the silver fern.
Our flag says "Britain", but we are not Britain. Our flag's job is to say "Proudly New Zealand".
Queen Elizabeth was not offended when Canada removed the Union Jack from their flag – in fact, she has said it's her favourite place to visit. Watching coverage of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, I saw some very old footage of the Queen saying she admired Canada as a country that had matured and gone ahead. As with any parent, I imagine she was proud of them for having reached "adulthood", and is happy to know they're still part of the family. Fifty years on, New Zealand and Australia are like twins who are reluctant to leave home. It's time we realised the Queen would be delighted to see New Zealand achieve its own grown-up flag. It'll be a shame if she never gets to see it, and we shouldn't delay any longer. Our Prime Minister has talked with the Queen about a new flag, and she is happy for us to go ahead with it.
In regard to a republicIt has been stated that more New Zealanders (especially among young people) are wanting this country to become a republic. Many years ago, I was in favour of this as well. In reality, I knew very little about the wider issues involved – I just thought we should be allowed to run our own country, without having to report to Britain! (My youthful impression was mostly due to our flag). Eventually, I came to realise that we already have autonomy in New Zealand, and that Britain and the Royal Family have little to do with our daily lives, but are there for us to call upon if we choose. It's hard to see how a republic could provide anything better for us.
Over the years, I have noticed a number of good reasons to keep the Monarchy, including all the positive influences on worthy causes, and on general peace and goodwill in the world. (That will continue, regardless of who is the reigning Monarch). More recently, I have looked at the pros and cons of the monarchy versus republic debate, and the idea of a republic no longer appeals to me. However, I do think our flag is an ever-present reminder of Britain, which makes us feel we are not fully independent. A flag with no Union Jack would free us from that perception, and would remove the most-obvious reason for wanting to be a republic.
While a republic would certainly lead to a change of flag, it is wrong to think a change of flag would lead to a republic. For example, Canada changed their flag in 1965, but they are still part of the Commonwealth and have not become a republic. It is not the Monarchy that is the most visible sign of British involvement in New Zealand – it is the Union Jack on our flag. If we change the flag alone, that would already provide an enormous sense of freedom from Britain, and we might then accept the Monarchy as a benign safeguard, that is in our best interests to retain. We don't need to cut ourselves off – but we do need a change in perception.
Becoming a republic has more consequences than some of us realise, and changing our flag would be a very minor thing, in comparison. [A good website to read is monarchy.org.nz]. As a monarchy, we have a Prime Minister, a Governor General, plus the Queen, with specific roles that complement each other, and provide a relaxed stability. A republic means having one person here as our absolute Head of State – at considerable cost and upheaval. A republic is not a simple case of making our Prime Minister or Governor General our official Head of State. Without the Monarchy, things like our flag, currency, Coat of Arms, Queen's Birthday weekend etc would make little sense, and a republic would result in many new changes to adjust to.
Most of us don't ditch our older relatives or ancestors when we grow up and start our own family, and neither do we need to ditch the Royal Family to show that we're a grown-up and independent nation. All we need is a totally New Zealand flag, with the Monarchy just there in the background. If we really think about it, having a separate person as our official Head of State (someone we can trust, and who trusts us to run our country as we please), is not such a bad thing. The Monarchy might have its failings and anachronisms, but it achieves far more good than harm in this world, and it seems neither right, nor sensible to disown it.
Preserving our New Zealand heritageAs well as considering our British heritage, we should also be considering our own. New Zealand has made huge changes in a relatively short time – from a land that belonged solely to Maori for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived, to the very multi-cultural society we have today. In a hundred years from now, it could be a totally different country altogether.
A flag that is about this country would capture our Kiwi spirit, and be something for us all to aspire to. Other cultures if we let them can enrich our lives with their diversity, but at the same time, the distinctive New Zealand character that has come largely from the Maori/Pakeha combination is something most of us would not want to lose. The way to retain that is not by seeing or putting up cultural barriers, but by helping other cultures to fit in. To achieve this, we need to accept our harmless differences, and see that we're all New Zealanders, no matter where we've come from. Unfortunately, our current flag doesn’t give us that message.
The official debate and referendumBy law, the flag can be changed by a simple majority of Parliament, but the Government have said that any decision on the flag would be made by all New Zealanders eligible to vote. Debate on the subject has been recurring over many years, and in January 2014, the Prime Minister put forward the possibility of a referendum on changing our flag. On March 11th, the Prime Minister announced the referendum would go ahead – but not until after the 2014 election (and before it would intrude on the 2017 election). The Labour Party supported this idea, and said the referendum would still go ahead if they were elected to power.
So now, in 2015/16, the Government (with the support of other political parties) is giving voters the chance to decide whether or not we will have a new flag, and what that new flag would be. The first referendum is to choose the best option from a shortlist of new designs. In the second referendum, voters will decide whether we change to that new design, or if the majority want no change. Both referendums are binding, and are fair to all of us. There will always be "more important things to worry about", but our national flag is important too. The benefits of having a new and inclusive flag of New Zealand are certainly worth considering, and are listed here. The official website for the referendum process can be accessed from the Index page.