Tuesday, 1 December 2015


Flag change opponents’ arguments lack substance and logic

The opponents of changing the New Zealand flag, now a rapidly shrinking slender majority, have been relying largely on clich├ęs that lack substance or logic, but there has been no shortage of heat, anger and venom from them.

Find the New Zealand flag in this photo
The heat and lack of logic is not confined to social media and has been heard on the streets and in groups of people. Typical comments heard include; “I’ll be voting for a new flag.” The response; “Only a traitor would want to change the flag.” Or this; “They have no bloody right to change our flag.”
The third and current flag of New Zealand
False rumour and conspiracy theories abound, mostly originating on Facebook and spurious blogs and websites. Some are classic and gullible people fall for them and spread them wide. But it’s all a bandwagon without wheels that will surely skid to an embarrassing stop when the flag changes and the dire predictions are found to be just silly nonsense. But people will quickly forget.
Here are some of the more outrageous claims:
If the flag changes all New Zealand passports will immediately expire and will have to be renewed showing the new flag. Some people have even claimed that changing the flag is a trap to get more revenue from passport applications. Well, just looking at my passport issued in 2013, and it doesn’t have a flag on it anywhere. So that claim has no credibility.

The five alternative flags
The same conspiracy theory has been put about regarding New Zealand driver licences. This time it is partly true. The licence does display a New Zealand flag, but licences will still expire on the expiry date shown on the licence. The design of driver licences often changes, but the changes normally only apply on renewal. My current driver licence, renewed earlier this year on its normal expiry date, is different to my previous licence. So the claim about having to renew all licences immediately is nonsense.
Prime Minister John Key

The next claim deals with the Coat of Arms. The claim is that because the Coat of Arms includes the flag, taxpayers will be faced with an immediate cost of introducing a new Coat of Arms. There is no constitutional requirement that the Coat of Arms must include a current flag, or even any flag. Historic emblems are a normal part of a Coat of Arms, and the present New Zealand flag may soon be little more than an historic emblem. The Coat of Arms claim is false.

The connection between the flag change and the Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is perhaps the most widely circulated myth about why New Zealand has to change its flag. It is claimed that changing the flag is a TPP requirement. Really? What about the other 11 partner countries, are they all changing their flags too? No. However, Australia may change its flag at some time in the future, but that’s only a possibility. Will Canada and the USA change their flags? Not likely. Both countries proudly fly flags of independence, while New Zealand flies a British colonial flag. The flag and the TPP is also being used as an excuse by some people who are simply opposed to free trade in any form. They are the kind of people who would place trade barriers between one town and the next. They are probably descendants of the machine smashers of the industrial revolution. They are just people who by nature are opposed to any kind of change or progress.
Miss-guided feelings about the flag. No-one
dies for a flag

The most venomous tirades on social media are reserved for New Zealand’s National Government and Prime Minister John Key, who is now in his third term as the country’s leader. Key consistently rates four or five votes to every one for his nearest rival in opinion polls. His party got two votes to one against the Labour opposition in the last three general elections. His opponents are desperate to bring him down and any tactic or smear will do. Meanwhile, Key has seen four Labour leaders down the road and a fifth is making little impact. Opponents claim that it is a vanity project for Mr Key and that he has manipulated the process to suit his own ends, that he has already decided which flag will win, that the vote is a farce. It goes on ad infinitum and the comments and illustrations are mostly ill-informed, and often vile and obscene. These people don’t seem to understand that their behaviour does nothing to help their cause. They ignore the fact that the campaign to change New Zealand’s flag started before the first National Government took office and before John Key was born. His government and a cross-party committee just happen to be the first politicians to give the people a chance to vote on their flag.

Another claim regularly doing the rounds on social media, where most of the debate takes place, is the claim that by changing flags Mew Zealand will surrender its sovereignty. The explanation goes that DUE AUTHORITY (always in caps to make it sound important) will be lost. By a process of one part of back-street legalese and two parts of literary gobbledegook, our constitution will be nullified and we will be open to takeover by international political conspirators and banking criminals. Due authority is laughable, but some people will believe anything and pass it on without checking its authenticity. Due authority is really due trash.

One of the most often repeated claims is that because opinion polls show a majority in favour of no change, the Government should not be spending $26 million dollars on two referenda. However, they ignore the fact the both major parties promised a vote on the flag during the last election campaign. They also claim that the country cannot afford the cost of the vote and the money could be spent on other things. But the New Zealand economy is doing better now than for many years and if we can’t afford something now we never will be able to. To some people anytime will always be the wrong time to spend less than $5 per person. Would these same people agree, because opinion polls and general elections repeatedly put the government ahead of the opposition, that the next general election should be cancelled? General elections are an extremely expensive exercise, many times the cost of the flag referenda, especially with our short three-year term and the tri-annual disruption to the economy and parliamentary business. This writer is not advocating cancelling any vote, but simply trying to put some perspective into the debate. Cancelling the referenda would serve no useful purpose and would be a breach of an election promise.

So now that postal voting is under way in the first referendum, opponents of change are encouraging their followers to disrupt the process by casting informal votes. It is claimed that if enough people do that the government will back down and the second referendum will be cancelled. The first vote is to select one design from a list of five that were chosen from 10,300 designs. The design chosen will then be pitted against the current flag in the second referendum in March 2016 and the result will be binding on the government. Instead of placing a number 1-5 in each space, opponents of change are placing an X in each space and writing KOF (keep our flag) across the ballot paper. This advice has been drafted by blockheads to manipulate and disenfranchise easily-led nincompoops. It won’t change the result.
The Asker Trilogy
Perhaps the most regularly expressed opposition to change is “My ancestors fought and died under that flag and it is disgraceful and disrespectful to try to change it.” While there may not be much logic in war, we should never be deterred from analysing the logic of why people go to war and what they fight for. There are several reasons why people go to war. Shamefully, a few go for the adventure. Some go to war because they have no choice and will be imprisoned if they refuse service. Most go because they want to defend their country and democracy. They want to preserve the things they hold dear, like family, their way of life, the independence of their nation, and the right to vote, including even a vote on the flag. No-one looks up at their national flag and says, “That’s a nice flag. I think I’ll go to war.” That would be absurd. The claim that anyone fought or died for a flag is silly nonsense.

Even New Zealand’s Returned Servicemen’s Association, an organisation renowned for being half a century out of date, is spending $20,000 trying to stop the flag from changing, while some of its branches are closing due to insufficient funds and falling membership. But in spite of its own problems, the RSA would have us believe that they have a divine and exclusive right to decide the future of the flag. The RSA should concentrate on the excellent social work that they were originally formed to carry out, and did well for many years.

The RSA was formed during World War I to assist wounded soldiers returning home, but somehow that has morphed into, “Only a traitor would want to change the flag.”

There is no end to the objections that can be found to changing the flag. Most have been repeated and debunked so many times that they are becoming rather boring. A typical one is, “It doesn’t matter if other countries are confused about our flag. We know what it is.” Another that keeps repeating itself is, “They want a silver fern on the flag, but that’s only a symbol and we don’t want any symbols on our flag, thank you very much.” But this one highlights a major contradiction, “The proposed silver fern is not the true colour of the silver fern. It’s white.” Point taken. But most of the colours on the current flag are also not true colours. The blue is supposed to represent the sky at night. The stars in the sky are red and that is not the true colour of a star. The colours are symbolic. Flags are symbolic. That’s the way it is. Get over it.

The flag debate in New Zealand has taken 70 years to reach a climax. It has created strong debate and deep divisions. Sometimes old friends have turned against each other, but true friends would never let a flag turn them into enemies. Wanting to change the flag should not be seen as disloyalty to the country. There can be no greater loyalty to a country than genuinely wanting to improve some aspect of the country.

However, the flag debate has had a wonderful new effect on Kiwis. It has sent them racing to their history books and Google like never before. Many Kiwis were raised to believe that their country, being new, had no history worth recording. That has changed. Kiwis are now becoming historians with a better knowledge of their country, history, culture and politics. We can thank the flag debate for that.

As the objections continue, and are mostly debunked, the trend moves steadily towards acceptance of a new flag. It is simple. More people are discovering that genuine objections are almost as rare as hen’s teeth.

The debate will gather momentum with the announcement of the successful alternative design later this month. If the successful design has a silver fern emblem on it, its march to the March final vote, objections rejected, will be unstoppable.