The Flag Debate

Special Edition #1

By Nicola Eccleton

I was about 18, and wandering along the waterfront at St Tropez (apologies for the bourgeois-ness), when we spotted one of those large, white, Georgetown registered, tax-havened launches flying an Aussie flag. My compatriot, of similar age, exclaimed “Hey! Kiwi flag,” and proceeded to argue with me that the New Zealand flag did, in fact, comprise of six white stars and a Union Jack on a blue background.

The startling realisation that not everyone recognised our flag was soon superseded by my growing understanding of colonisation and everything the Union Jack stood for, including assignation of the role of Head of State to a monarch on the other side of the planet.

The Union Jack is our history, which should be acknowledged, but it does not follow that we need to use it to represent what we have become. Interestingly enough, as I write this, the Charlestown massacre is in the news, and I have discovered that South Carolina flies the Confederate Flag. A flag that means hate, suppression and violence, is still flown on public buildings. Obama says it belongs in a museum. In New Zealand, the Union Jack does too.

It’s fair to say that I have long desired a new flag. It’s also fair to say I am really unexcited by the impending flag referendum. In trying to determine why, I can pinpoint only process, and John Key, that autocratic banker, famous for not caring about process, trying to turn this into a legacy project. The referendum is occurring before a genuine debate of the issues. And a panel chosen for its name recognition value incenses me. Call me crazy, but why can a genuine debate not be led by a panel of vexillologists, anthropologists, historians and designers? Or even a panel where half the people come from this group? Oh yes, there are a couple of academics, and I will be accused of academic snobbery. I also understand the importance of representation in politics, but seriously, who does Julie Christie represent; those with earning capacities over ten million per annum? Why are we educating people at all if they are not considered experts in their chosen fields? Why specialise in the study of flags, when if you wanted to be part of this discussion you should really have honed your sporting or business prowess? Why would you write a post, when you can just rant?

The other point that I find more interesting than any other is this chicken and egg questioning technique. “Would you like a new flag?” seems inherently the first question that should be asked, and it’s not. I am not actually convinced that this is the wrong way around. If we chose to change the flag, but didn’t agree on the design, we could end up forcing the issue and making an ill-considered, but expedient choice.

Yes, I would like a new flag. No, I am not particularly excited. And maybe, deep down, I’m just peeved. I wanted Aunty Helen to do it.