Wednesday, 16 December 2015


New Zealand’s flag debate steps up a notch with the first vote

The United Tribes flag
of New Zealand 1835-1840
The campaign to change the New Zealand flag started after the end of World War II, with Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser leading the charge as New Zealand independence approached. But Fraser’s government was defeated in 1949 and the flag debate waxed and waned over the following decades.

Following full independence in 1947, the British Government lost the right to create laws for New Zealand, and New Zealanders lost their British citizenship. Only New Zealanders with a grandfather born in the UK could then have free access to work and live in the UK.

In the 1970’s, with the United Kingdom’s entry to the European Union and the loss of preferred trading arrangements, the flag campaign moved into a higher gear with some opinion polls showing a majority in favour of change.

Proponents of change wanted a flag that was distinctly New Zealand rather than a British inspired variation of the Australian flag. As immigration patterns changed and Maori became recognised as being entitled to equal rights, the proponents wanted a flag that would honour all ethnic groups.

The British Union flag was the official
flag for New Zealand from 1840-1902
The distinctive silver fern leaf, worn by sporting teams and soldiers since the late 1800’s, was New Zealand’s best known emblem. Other emblems included the native flightless kiwi bird and the koru (loop) representing an unfurling new frond on a silver fern, and the tiki (a grotesque humanoid carving) representing the first Maori man and woman.

All of New Zealand’s better known emblems have appeared at some time on the country’s banknotes and coinage, but never on the national flag. Pride of place on the flag has always been reserved for the Union jack, itself a merger of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland, but not of Wales or any of the colonies. It has been very much a case of they can exclude us but we must not exclude them. Some New Zealanders regard that acquiescence as grovelling.

The loss of British citizenship and access for New Zealand produce was a significant upheaval for many New Zealanders that ultimately led to a major restructuring of industry and the New Zealand economy in the 1980’s and 90’s in changes referred to as Rogernomics, after Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas who initiated the reforms. This added fuel to the fire of the flag reformers, who questioned the appropriateness of keeping the British flag in the top corner of the former colony’s flag.

New Zealand's third official flag was
used occasionally from 1867-1869
As the debate intensified, the two largest political parties promised during the 2014 election campaign a vote on the flag. Early in 2015 a non-partisan parliamentary committee laid down the process which included appointing the Flag Consideration Panel to seek public input and consider alternative flag designs. As the process got under way, the Labour Party, while still part of the committee, started distancing itself from the process to score political points. Entrenched opponents of change saw Labour’s phoney reluctance as a chance to isolate National Party Prime Minister John Key as a manipulator and glory seeker. Labour has come close to derailing the flag process, but has gained nothing politically from opinion polls.

As the first vote for a single alternative design drew near, pro-change and pro-old flag contestants became divided more along party lines, even though it has been a cross-party process with only one small party not joining the parliamentary flag committee.

The current flag was adopted in 1902
and is New Zealand's fourth flag
The Panel received 10,300 designs which they narrowed down to a short list of 40 and then a final list of four. But uproar followed with many claiming that the Prime Minister had overridden the Panel and that a design known as Red Peak should have been included. Some opponents of change seized on the opportunity to fight for Red Peak, seeing it as having little chance if pitted against the existing flag, and thereby frustrating the process. Finally, Parliament emended the legislation to include Red Peak at a cost of $260,000, but it was eliminated early by the voters in the preferential system used in the first referendum. Many people saw that as confirmation that the Panel had correctly excluded Red Peak from the final short list.

The pro-old flag lobby have raised many frivolous objections to changing the flag, too many to go into in this post, but watch for future posts as the debate continues in the run-up to the final one-on-one vote in March 2016. Meanwhile, I’ve penned a couple of verses to sum up the flag situation in New Zealand.

The Cross-Roads in the Corner

Our flag bears a lost empire’s cross-roads in the corner
There on the instructions of our 1902 colonial masters.
In 1907 they said, on your own, cow-cockies Downunder
Oh, no. We said. Who would buy our butter?
But, the Statute of Westminster will set you free.
But freedom will not sell our wool, mutton or beef.
We want to keep the flag with lost cross-roads in the corner.

When 1914 came round, they said, Forget all that. We’re at war.
Send us a generation of able-bodied and fit young men
Send us your butter and meat by the shipload too
And when the boys are lying dead in foreign fields of mud
Tell the widows and the mothers and the little children
That they died honourably defending their flag
The flag with the lost empire cross-roads in the corner.

Another generation and another war to end all wars
Conscription again to force youth to fight, that was the law
They took our produce and essentials, Kiwi kids went without
Another eleven thousand Kiwis died, supposedly for the flag
The flag with the lost empire cross-roads in the corner.

In 1947, we finally, reluctantly and quietly became independent
But we kept the old colonial flag to remain near to the Old Country
And we kept the old colonial flag to glorify all the wars past
The flag with the lost empire cross-roads in the corner.

1973, and our former colonial masters gave us the greatest shove ever
With the stroke of a pen, they joined Europe and said, Kiwis go to hell
And take your old colonial rag and shove it where the sun don’t shine
The flag you love so much, with the lost empire cross-roads in the corner.

But a campaign was growing to run up a real New Zealand flag
A flag that would look to the future with confidence, hope and pride
A flag that would bury forever our bloody colonial past
A flag that would recognise and honour all our ethnic groups
A flag that champions would wear on their uniforms with pride
A flag that the whole world would identify with New Zealand
A flag that would fly our famous emblem, the beautiful, unique silver fern
And not the flag with the sad lost empire cross-roads in the corner.

In the first vote two of the five alternatives were separated by just 1% with the flag known as the Silver Fern Black White and Blue just edging out the Silver Fern Red White and Blue, both designed by Kyle Lockwood in 2005. The other three flags didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell and collected only a handful of votes.

The five short-listed flags in the
2015 referendum
After a vigorous campaign on social media to frustrate the vote, and protest at the government spending $26 million on the flag referendums, by casting informal votes, the campaign failed with less than 10% of the votes being informal.

Meanwhile, the campaign steps up a notch with many prominent New Zealanders declaring their position, mostly in favour of change. With the masses it is the other way around with about 60% (down from 80% earlier) to about 40% in favour of change.

Continued below . . .

Peter's Books
Flag makers have been busy and most of the sales have been for copies of the current flag, itself a turn-around from earlier times when few flags flew from private flagpoles. But now that a single alternative flag has been selected by the voters from five finalists, the flag makers will be extra busy as new orders roll in for the challenger.

The Round 1 winner is the black and
blue silver fern flag
One thing is certain in the little land Downunder, flagapathy has flown out the window, and a distinctively new New Zealand flag could fly in.


It's got something old
And something new
A little of our famous black
With the same old blue
A Southern Cross bright
A silver fern just right
Our new New Zealand flag


The result of the referendum was 56% in favour of the old flag and 44% for the new flag. For many people the campaign to change New Zealand's flag is continuing and the silver fern flag can be seen flying from many flagpoles.


A Southern Cross bright
A silver fern just right
Our new New Zealand flag.
A Southern Cross bright
A silver fern just right
Our new New Zealand flag.