I cannot believe that I am thinking about voting to keep our current flag. It is a flag that I have loathed for probably 30 years. Its similarity to the Australian flag reminds me of when New Zealand was ruled by New South Wales, and its imagery is redolent with smug colonial arrogance. It reinforces a constitutional fiction – that somehow the sovereignty of New Zealand resides in the Queen, and that she is a font of justice and honour.
But it is possible that the alternatives are worse.
Yesterday the Flag Consideration Panel released its shortlist of four possible options. The first round of voting will decide which of these is the favorite. The winner will then go up against the current flag in the second round of voting. Once you realise that the shortlist was approved by the Cabinet, it all starts to make sense. John Key’s personal favorite is represented twice, in slightly different colour combinations, to make sure that it has double the chance of being chosen. Actually, that design is the only one to have any colour at all. The other two are in monochrome, just in case you didn’t understand which was the right answer.
The prospect of ending up with a flag that looks like it was cut out of a weetbix box seems to have burned off a fair chunk of the dwindling support for a flag change. I have to admit to being highly confused about the Government’s motives in this whole debacle. For people who claim to want to change the flag, they seem to have pretty much destroyed most of the majority support that once existed for doing that. A lot of that would have been on the left and green spectrums I suppose, but I’m sure they must have also irritated a fair chunk of conservative National voters in the process, by even suggesting a change. Amusingly, the process has been so badly designed that they now look likely to lose the vote. Is it too conspiritorial to think they did it to destroy any prospect of a flag change for the next few decades?
I guess so.
Not of course as conspiritorial as the bizarre theory being spread around Facebook, claiming that removing the union jack from our flag will destroy the DUE AUTHORITY of the Crown (I know, I know, its a made-up term) and nullify the Treaty of Waitangi. Apparently this is all necessary so we can sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Why New Zealand would be the only country that needs a flag change to sign a trade deal is beyond me, never mind how the authority of the British Crown or the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi could rely on a flag adopted in 1902.
So what then is the Prime Minister’s motivation? I suspect that its a bit of an ego thing. New Zealand has been orienting away from Europe and towards Asia ever since Britain joined the Eureopean Community and basically told us to get lost, economically speaking. Sooner or later we are going to become an republic and change the flag, not necessarily in that order. It must be a bit of a buzz to be the guy to do it, and I am sure Key holds no great affection for Britain, the Royals or tradition, except where it provides an opportunity for a good selfie.
Actually the best argument against changing the flag that I have read is because it SHOULD be in that order. Removing the symbol of British sovereignty, the argument goes, before we have actually brought our sovereignty home is just shallow tokenism. We should change the flag when we do something constitutionally significant enough to warrant it. I have some sympathy with that idea.
But more than that, I am deeply irritated by not having the chance to vote for anything even close to something I’d want to see fly as New Zealand’s flag. I can happily accept losing a vote to the preferences of my fellow citizens. I do not accept being denied a decent choice by a panel of Government cronies. I am reluctantly thinking that I will vote for the koru in the first round and then vote to keep the current flag in the second round, in the hope that we get another crack at it in a few decades. That’s when I am hoping that we finally start getting serious about ditching the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family.
Ultimately the whole affair, like the flag choices we have been allowed to choose between, lacks imagination. It should all have been done with on-line voting. Every registered voter could have been provided a log-in to an STV voting website, and allowed to rank as many of the flags on the long-list of 40 (plus the current flag) as they wanted. Voting through public access terminals in libraries and through smart phones at wi-fi hotspots could be made available for those without internet access at home. This would have been highly democratic and also considerably cheaper. It would have given us a flag with majority support. It would have been quick and easy. Finally it would have been a great opportunity to pilot some digital democracy, and start to bring our voting systems into the 21st century.
But then going by past events, I guess that enhancing democracy is not something that interests this Government.