Preserving the mana of the tino rangatiratanga flag

By Ellipsister


Throughout the flag debate, I saw many Pākehā calling for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag to be an option as the national flag. Some said it was a beautiful design – which it is, but that is not a good reason to appropriate it as a national symbol without proper consideration of what this flag symbolises for Māori: resistance and resilience of tangata whenua in our struggle for, you guessed it “tino rangatiratanga. Others claimed that tino rangatiratanga represented them more than the Union Jack. And actually, that sat incredibly uncomfortably with me. I mean, Yes! please do raise our tino flag in solidarity. But your misplaced affection in appropriating our struggle and claiming it represents you is offensive and invalidating. Your lands and resources  were not forcibly taken, your culture and rights were not systematically oppressed, and you do not therefore experience the intergenerational trauma of colonisation.

For me, until tino rangatiratanga is actually achieved by Māori and formally recognised by the State, then I would never put my support behind the tino flag becoming New Zealand’s national flag. The reason should be obvious. However, to avoid any confusion – we cannot have tino rangatiratanga as a symbol of our nationhood if it is not a Māori reality. It is simply a way of feeding into the myth of partnership – the idea that Māori and the Crown have an equal share of power to make decisions that affect the peoples who are of this land – tangata whenua, and those who have settled on it – tau iwi.

I feel that if the tino flag is offered up as a national flag prematurely then it will diminish the mana of the flag and all its symbolism and deprive it of its meaning. On the other hand, if there were a policy for dual recognition of the tino flag as having equal status with the national flag, then this would perhaps enhance the mana of this flag and its symbolism as the forward-looking next step in addressing the issue of Māori sovereignty.

For the record, I didn’t vote in the flag referendum. I was ambivalent – I wasn’t prepared to vote for the dag we were offered, or the symbol of colonisation. That’s just my view. I appreciate others look at the Union Jack differently. But I felt that we should have been having a discussion about dual flags instead. I wrote about my views early on in the debate, asserting my preference for dual flags and my reasons for it. You can read that post here.

I am not offering up any new perspective either. Māori groups have been calling for dual flags and ascribing equal status to the tino rangatiratanga flag since achieving recognition as the national Māori flag in 2009 following a nationwide consultation process. I am simply attempting to advance this kaupapa alongside those who have long been championing this change and in support of those who have also been calling for this since the flag referendum began.

It’s important to note here that some Māori do not recognise the tino flag as the national Māori flag. Instead preferring the United Tribes flag (the first official flag of New Zealand) or their own independent hapū/iwi flag. So we need to discuss as independent hapū/iwi and urban roopu whether we can unite ‘under the korowai of kōtahitanga’ (as Hon. Te Ururoa Flavell calls it) to take our struggle to the next level and place Māori sovereignty at the forefront of this country’s political discourse. Additionally, whether we can agree to do this under this symbol of tino rangatiratanga.

As a sidenote, I am mindful of how our values as Māori are shared and also distinct, adaptable and variable. How we prioritise which values will direct our dialogues are deeply personal. We form them, and they are shaped through what we bring to the discussion as individuals and through our place in our different collectives. In my observation, many of our disagreements fuse around our competing tikanga priorities and the resulting tensions expose what appear to be disagreements about what these values mean, or how we interpret them in a contemporary context.

I imagine it was no easy feat for those who negotiated and lobbied to get the tino flag recognised by the government as an important step in acknowledging the partnership that was intended as forming out of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and credit must be given to those who led that effort. However, the time is ripe for a more ambitious attempt to achieve equal status of our flag, moving from symbolic to constitutional recognition and preserving the mana of this flag as we ramp up our drive for mana motuhake and forge our path to reassert tino rangatiratanga.





Where did Red Peak come from?

By Chuan-Zheng Lee

Two months ago, I wrote in this blog professing indifference to the flag change question. I did, though, have just one plea. Follow basic principles of vexillology, I implored. Among other things, keep it simple, “so simple that a child can draw it from memory”. I considered it a fairly routine suggestion. Surely, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well?

Alas, it was too hard. Three of the flags on the shortlist have renditions of the silver fern that I can’t draw as an adult, let alone as a child. Just one meets basic vexillological criteria. Cutely labelled “Hypnoflag“, it’s the least popular of the four. I don’t mind it, but I don’t care much for it, either.

Then I stumbled across the Red Peak. I had glanced at it a few weeks ago and, I admit, was largely apathetic to it. But as I looked at it again, reflected on it and read more about it, its brilliance progressively dawned on me. It has everything in that vexillological handbook: simplicity, meaningful symbolism, distinctiveness. It nods to our Māori origins and our geography. It’s clear even when made small: redpeak-small. I generally think symbols are arbitrary, but I can imagine this one in more than just a hypothetical sense. It fits.

I still don’t mind our current flag. As I wrote in July, I don’t understand the aversion many have towards the Union Jack. Our flag isn’t an epitome of good design, but it ticks the boxes. Red Peak is the first design that would motivate me to vote “yes” in March, not because I want change, but because it would be such a great flag to have.


It won’t happen, of course. We can sign whatever petitions we want, and it’s theoretically possible to get Red Peak on the ballot, but practically it’s too little too late. One might rightly ask, where was all this support before the shortlist was decided, when it mattered?

There are a few things that could have happened. One is that, like me, people may have reflected and changed their opinions. The post that went viral was penned by software investor Rowan Simpson, previously an advocate of the silver fern. Others too, may have learnt about flag design and grown to like Red Peak as they came to understand it. It is just as well that the process is long enough for public discussion.

But why would the tide come only after the shortlist release? It’s possible that people were pushed into action by the shortlist. Motivation to understand what’s good rises when what’s bad becomes a concrete possibility. The Flag Consideration Panel didn’t actively solicit feedback on the long list (which included Red Peak) like they did for “what we stand for“, nor should they have felt obliged to. The whole point of delegating to a committee is that they can devote more effort to their deliberations than the rest of us have time to, and picking a shortlist was their one job. And, to be fair to those who hadn’t thought much about the options beforehand, there were no hints that the panel was going to centre on silver fern designs. Of the forty on the long list, just eleven had detailed silver ferns. Voters might have quite reasonably assumed that the shortlist would reflect this, and not thought about it much more deeply. And when the final options started staring them in the face, they started wondering: does it have to be these?


That would be the innocent explanation. More cynically, a fair amount of Red Peak support seems to be coming from people who previously criticised the flag referendum as a “distraction” from “more important issues”. The tension between this stance and their newfound passion seems not to have occurred to them. Often vehemently opposed to John Key, they take up nearly any cause that contradicts him.

One can’t help but wonder: if Red Peak had been on the shortlist, would that endorsement have triggered a backlash, just like the four on the shortlist now? Some of Red Peak’s proponents are genuine, no doubt, like Mr Simpson. But it’s hard to imagine such strong support if Red Peak had been always been a front-runner, or worse, Mr Key’s favourite.

It’s easy to dismiss the whole movement on this basis. That would be a mistake. The first reason is that its designer puts forward a very respectable case for it. There are surely arguments against it, but the fact that some of its supporters are government opponents is not one of them.

The second, more pragmatic, reason is that Red Peak has pulled people out of indifference, apathy and cynicism towards a flag change in a way that no other design has. For passionate change advocates, this is surely a good thing. Perhaps now they have a chance of convincing sceptics that it’s not a “waste of money” or a “distraction”. It offers an opportunity to move a flag change away from negative reasons, like “this doesn’t reflect us today”, to positive reasons, like “this is a cool flag”.

The fact that Red Peak has slowly won people over should give hope that it can continue to change minds. It’ll take time—too much time, perhaps, to get enough support before the November vote, even if it were on the ballot. If so, the true test is whether Red Peak can keep its groundswell growing after (here is my prediction) New Zealand votes to retain its current flag in March. With an alternative not just for the sake of being an alternative, a renewed flag change effort might get much more support than current polls indicate.

The Haki Conspiracy

By Ellipsister (Co-Editor)

I’ve written on the flag change already. My position on that hasn’t changed. I’m no nationalist, but I do support giving equal status to the Māori flag as explicit recognition of the status of Māori as tangata whenua and as a positive step toward tino rangatiratanga.  However, this post is about something different. It’s about the tin foil that has rolled out all over Facebook over the past week proclaiming the removal of the Union Jack will a) render the Treaty of Waitangi null and void and b) enable John Key to legally sign the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.


Its bunk. The writer has either relied on the reader not clicking on the link to the document cited to intentionally mislead the reader, or has not understood how to read the document.

Here is a screenshot from the post:


Note, the writer has insinuated that the document identifies the Union Jack as “core” to our current system of government and this is what he builds his theory around. What the document actually says is:

points 10

And at 12:

Points 12

The Union Jack is symbolic only and removing it from the New Zealand flag will not affect the the status of this country as a constitutional monarchy, i.e. it does not remove the Queen as our Head of State. Moreover, it is the government that manages the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty so changing the symbol will not null and void the Treaty of Waitangi (an issue for another day is actually a discussion about the Māori text and the English text. We often talk about these documents interchangeably but they contain significant differences in the language used and as Ani Mikaere has argued they are not reconcilable despite a great deal of treaty jurisprudence suggesting they could be).

Changing the flag also does not legalise “John Key’s” ability to sign the TPPA. The Executive already has ‘the power to take binding treaty action (that is, ratification, accession, acceptance, approval, withdrawal or denunciation or, in the case of bilateral treaties, signature)’ provided it can pass the legislation to implement the treaty in New Zealand’s domestic law.

As you can tell, I am wholly unconvinced by the haki conspiracy. What I  will make clear is that:

  • I oppose the signing of the TPPA and a raft of other multilateral treaties that seek to meta-regulate the trading environment, in such a way that advantages multinational corporations at the expense of small business owners and entrepreneurs, especially in their local markets.
  • I consider that the rights of Māori as tangata whenua are not packaged up in The Treaty (whichever version) but are sourced from our continued relationships with our whenua that have been shaped over many centuries pre- and post-colonisation and as such I support the building of alternative social institutions that will render statist institutions obsolete and would champion this country asserting its independence by cutting ties with the monarchy.
  • I am increasingly suspicious of the motivations of any person that suggests the symbol of the Union Jack in this country represents anything other than the colonisation of Māori and the devastation of our culture.

We need to re-emphasise the “demos” in Democracy: Making a case for sortition in New Zealand

By Nicholas Ross Smith (University of Auckland)

I unashamedly admit that I did not vote in last year’s election, even though it’s meant having to put up with tedious carping from friends who believe that voting is essential to “having a say”. The main reason I passed on my right to vote was disillusionment with modern representative democracy. A democratic façade built on a myth that voting once every three years (in New Zealand’s case) is sufficient democratic participation.

It seems that I am not alone in my current antipathy to the electoral process, as voter turnout is has diminished significantly worldwide in the last three decades (New Zealand’s dropped from 93.7% in 1984 to 77.9% last year). While British Prime Minister David Cameron talks about extremism being the biggest challenge of contemporary times, I believe that apathy (nihilism being its extreme form) is a far greater problem for Western societies and is, in part, a product of our insipid democratic systems.

Any system which has elections as the centrepiece of its popular participation is inherently flawed and easily corruptible. In Classical Athens, the supposed first democratic society, elections were seen as a fast-track to oligarchy: rule by a small group of elites. Aristotle, in Book Four of his seminal treatise Politics, made the following statement:

That all offices are filled by election… is one of these oligarchical characteristics; that the power of inflicting death or banishment rests with a few persons is another

Looking across the globe in the so called healthy democratic states of the West, it is not hard to discern a ruling class of elites who see serving interest groups as over-riding the service of the people. Seemingly, one of the core principles of democracy, deliberation, has been gradually eroded to the point where it practically ceases to exist. In its place we are bombarded with election campaigns that use propaganda and populist tactics which in turn creates partisanship and reduces any scope for compromise.

The “vote-buying” behaviour of the mainstream parties in New Zealand, and elsewhere, is completely shameless. However, rather than chastise parties and politicians for their cynical political behaviour, which, especially in New Zealand, seems to suck up most of the energy of those that can be called politically interested, we should focus on amending the system which enables such behaviour.

Certainly, over the last few decades, many in the Western world have come around to the idea that our modern democratic systems are flawed and are in need of repair. While many tend to have knee-jerk reactions which place the blame squarely with the idea of democracy, I believe that the problem is not with democracy per se but simply that we do not have enough democracy.

A popular model for those advocating for “more” democracy is that of Switzerland. It has combined strong decentralisation with direct democracy. The Swiss model has some benefits over the standard representative system, such as elevating the principle of subsidiarity, which states that political decisions, where possible and suitable, should be made at a local level. However, based on my initial stated disdain for elections, being able to vote on a wider array of decisions is not a fix and arguably leads to intensification of the tyranny of the majority.

In my opinion, we are missing the obvious when we think about remedying modern democratic ills. Re-engaging with the philosophers who originally came up with the idea of democracy offers a potentially fruitful solution. In Classical Athens, selection was made not through elections but by sortition: a lottery in which all male citizens were candidates (any modern system would be far more inclusive). Herodotus, in Book Three of his famous treatise Histories, placed sortition as the first of three important democratic practices:

The lot determines offices, power is held accountable, and deliberation is conducted in public.

Proponents of democracy by sortition generally demarcate five key advantages over any other system of governance: its fairness and equality; its immunity against corruption; its ending of party politics and populism; the importance of participatory deliberation; and its softening of political apathy.

First, as sortition removes competition for office, it is fundamentally fairer than a voting system which rewards candidates with power, status, money and connections. Additionally, sortition helps remove demographic imbalances, especially gender and ethnic, usually found in modern representative democracies and provides a fairer cross-section of society.

Second, a system based on sortition is far harder to corrupt than a typical electorally-anchored democratic system, as the randomisation of potential officers means they cannot be prepositioned or influenced by individuals or interest groups.  Indeed, part of the attractiveness of sortition for the ancient Greeks was that it broke up powerful factions and minimised the impact of wealthy elites.

Third, sortition puts an end to the negative effects of party politics, and as a result, pervasive populism. Political parties not only create ideological partisanship and reduce opportunity for compromise, but they also engage in populist strategies. Thus, sortition would render populism fruitless while simultaneously removing one’s loyalty to a party and replacing it with loyalty to one’s conscience.

Fourth, decision-making in a system based on sortition is executed through participatory deliberation (in the form of citizens’ juries). Whereas deliberation in modern democracy has been eroded away and replaced with the cacophony of campaign-focussed politics, sortition requires that decisions be made through the face-to-face interaction of randomly selected individual; a process which naturally lends itself to cooperation and compromise.

Finally, sortition would help alleviate the high levels of political apathy evident in most Western countries. Through raising the opportunity for average citizens to contribute to political decision-making, rather than asking citizens to delegate to a politician, sortition would go some way to reversing the pervasive phenomenon of rational ignorance (in this case, rationally choosing not to learn about politics) amongst what is now the voting (or non-voting) public.

Unsurprisingly, a democratic system characterised by sortition is not without legitimate criticisms. The suitability and enthusiasm of ordinary people to make important political decisions, the chance of random misrepresentation, and a lack of legitimacy and accountability are obvious concerns. However, we entrust juries selected by sortition to decide whether someone is guilty or not in the eyes of the law, so why not trust ordinary people to make political decisions too?

Dismantling longstanding institutions and standard operating procedures of representative democracy is no easy task (particularly when so many interests will be compromised) and the practicality of imposing an alternative system based on sortition (especially to what degree) needs serious feasibility testing.

A starting point would be to endeavour for the introduction of sortition at the council level (a process underway in Australia) which, if combined with decentralisation (guided by the principle of subsidiarity), would make for a far more equitable situation. As a recent report by the New Zealand Herald on the Auckland City Council illustrated, serious rebalancing is required in our councils to enable a fairer representation of society – a problem sortition would likely fix.


The Flag Debate: Why We Need It

Special Edition #1

By Joshua Hitchcock

Originally posted on Ka Tonuitanga (4 November 2014).

Contrary to the opinion of many that I have seen over the past week the debate over our national flag is a serious issue and one that I am glad we are having. The flag is a symbol of who we are as a people and providing a space to discuss this is a positive step. This debate is also much more than a debate about a flag design. It is another step in path of understanding who we are as a nation and of asserting our independence in the world. Many have made the mistake of viewing the upcoming referenda in a vacuum, ignoring the history, and future, of reform that this is one part of.

Yes, there are more important constitutional debates to be had. The issue of a republic and the role that Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the relationship between Māori and Pākehā are two issues that we must address. But these are issues that we are not ready to debate yet. Public discourse over Te Tiriti is too ill-informed, too knee-jerk, too outright racist, for us to seriously contemplate a national conversation over its place in our constitutional arrangements. Even issues such as Māori representation brings out the worst in people and that makes up only a small part of the partnership envisioned by Te Tiriti.

So where then do we place the flag debate? It is a continuation of a theme. We live in a generation where, in the absence of war, depression, or a nation divided by sport; we can start talking about what it means to be citizens not only of this whenua, but of the entire world that we inhabit. We started the conversation in the 1990s with a reform of our electoral system. Reform driven by the failures of the 4th Labour Government. As a nation we can together to change the way we govern ourselves and our representative democracy was strengthened as a result.

And slowly but surely we have gone about this reform on a case by case basis. The Privy Council has been replaced by the Supreme Court; the battle for the recognition of Māori rights has largely been won, with redress payments and co-governance arrangements proliferating without creating too much anger within the Pākehā community; and the social contract was restored with the landmark social programmes of the 5th Labour Government – working for families, kiwisaver, and the national superannuation fund.

Changing our flag is the next step in the reform. It is the most visible symbol of Aotearoa / New Zealand. At the moment it reflects our colonial past and all the good and bad that has arisen because of that. A new flag will mark a turning point in our constitutional history. We can quite literally place a stake in the ground to work on discussing the more important constitutional issues that we need to address over the coming generation.

My hope is that we select a flag which respects and acknowledges our Māori and our Pākehā cultures. If we can point to our flag (and while we are at it, we should officially change our name to Aotearoa / New Zealand) as a symbol of the partnership between Tangata Whenua and those tangata who have joined us on this whenua then that is a powerful platform to build future constitutional change on.

On the meaning and design of a flag

2015-06-30 01.15.44 (800x450)

Someone will need to send me a new one if the referendum passes

By Chuan-Zheng Lee

There’s something about being away from home that makes you cling on to anything about it. My keyring has a kiwi on it, photos of One Tree Hill fill my desktop background, and a flag hangs boldly on my bedroom wall. Clearly, the flag means something to me.

Yet, I’ve struggled to be moved by either side of the flag debate. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve tried to care, really, I really have. But the more I think about it, the harder it gets to escape from this conviction: Symbols have exactly and only the meaning that we give to the symbol. We can adopt whatever symbol we want, and it’ll stand for us if we want it to.* The New Zealand flag means something to me because I grew up believing that it was “the New Zealand flag”. If we want to adopt a new one, I can just make that mean something to me too.


That’s pretty much my position on the flag. At this point, I suppose people will start throwing arguments at me to try to persuade me I should care. I’ll address a few.

“It looks like Australia’s flag.” Our flag first came into use in 1869. Australia’s had no such form until a flag competition after they federated in 1901. They didn’t copy us, but we still have first claim, and I refuse to cave just because Australia came up with a similar flag after us. They don’t get the flag as a consolation prize for losing pavlova.

More to the point, I don’t care if our flags have similarities. We’re quite similar countries, and I don’t mind enlightening people about the difference. The Commonwealth Star and different-coloured stars are obvious enough if you know what the flags are. Frankly, I spend more time educating people I meet in America that my accent isn’t Australian.

“It has the Union Jack on it.” I don’t have a problem with this association either. It’s empirically true that our culture largely derives from Britain’s. I don’t see why this needs to signify anything more than some aspect of our history that’s still visible today.

Now, this doesn’t mean we have to have it on our flag—its removal wouldn’t bother me at all, either. We might choose to emphasise other aspects of our history or identity—our Māori heritage, for example—and that’s fine too.

“Our soldiers fought under it.” Our soldiers fought for New Zealand; the flag is just an identifier. You don’t fight for a flag, you fight for a country. It’s not clear to me why we can’t change this identifier, and treat it as a continuation of the previous flag.

“It’s a waste of money.” As far as the government budget goes, $26 million isn’t exactly life-threatening, so this is a waste of money if, and only if, the exercise isn’t worthwhile in the first place. If we think it’s worth getting right, it’s a cost worth bearing.

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. How can I say I don’t care about the question, and then defend the cost of asking it? My point is that “it’s a waste of money” doesn’t show we shouldn’t hold the referendum, because it relies on the premise that we shouldn’t hold the referendum. If my compatriots really want to settle this, that’s fine by me. I’ll go along for the ride. But if people have reasons for believing it’s a waste, they should make those arguments instead.


Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Wikimedia Commons)

Now, if we are going to redesign the flag, then there are a few things probably worth keeping straight. It’s not as if there’s no such thing as a bad flag: for a vexillological disaster, see the flag of Milwaukee, a city in Wisconsin.

Firstly, although I said that the meaning of symbols is arbitrary, we should still give some thought to the meanings themselves. Specifically, meanings of elements should be factually, not just aspirationally, connected to New Zealand. Virtually every design in the flag gallery does this, so I’m picking it’s uncontroversial.

Secondly, it’s worth keeping some basic principles in mind, like the ones that Ted Kaye of the North American Vexillological Association compiled in Good Flag, Bad Flag. The flag should be kept simple, “so simple that a child can draw it from memory.” With respect to their creators, this should rule out elaborate patterns like the one on the left below, or any of these. For the same reason, if there must be a silver fern on the flag, it should be stylised like the one in the middle, not the one on the right.

Too complicated

Good stylised fern

Not-so-good stylised fern

Please don’t

It should also contain no lettering. Specifically, it should avoid the letters “NZ”—the flag shouldn’t embed a reminder about who it belongs to! This means the 1974 Commonwealth Games logo should be left out. And this attempt (right) to combine “NZ” into a complicated rendition of the fern is, in the nicest way possible to its creator, a definite no-no.

Here’s a TED talk about these and other basic principles, interleaved with some hilarious commentary on some American cities’ flags. You really should watch it. Before I saw it, I really didn’t care about flags. Now, I have at least some minimal appreciation for good flag design.

* Obviously there are some limits to this. There are some symbols already “taken” by others whose meaning you just can’t escape, for example, the flag of the Confederate States of America. ^
† We formally adopted our flag in 1902, but that formality doesn’t change the fact that it was widely used before then. ^
‡ The fifth principle in Good Flag, Bad Flag is “be distinctive or be related”, and while Kaye recognises that the Union Jack symbolises connection to the Commonwealth, he criticises the flag of Manitoba, a province in Canada, for giving too much emphasis to it. I think relegating it to one quarter makes it distinctive enough—at least as distinctive as, say, Malaysia’s and Liberia’s are from the United States’. Then again, I’m not a vexillologist. ^

A Mediocre Idea

Special Edition #1

By Lamia Imam

Should New Zealand’s flag be changed? In short, yes probably.  I think a lot of us who in our personal lives are aligned to the political left might be irritated that our Prime Minister, who we don’t always hold in high esteem, has come up with this idea. But that is petty and unproductive. I’m a first generation Kiwi so I will happily admit that the current flag and I do not really share a warm fuzzy relationship wrapped in ancestral significance. In fact, my ancestors much like NZ’s tangata whenua were colonized by the Brits and therefore, I have a lot of ill feelings towards that regime and what it represents. The Union Jack aside, I also do not like the red, white and blue because to me it still symbolizes colonialism and US imperialism. But this is not about my aesthetic preference. This is about our national identity, the expression of our independence and our unique culture. Will changing the flag do that?

I always assumed that our flag would eventually change when we actually achieved something to deserve that change. We are not completely independent as a nation but we have been working towards it. Our judiciary is independent, our legislature is independent but our executive is not since the Queen of England is still our official head of state. I have spent a lot of time outside of New Zealand and by far people give me much more grief about still holding on to the Monarchy than how similar our flag is to Australia.

One thing that has really surprised me is that the flag discussion has not brought up the fact that we have a Constitutional Advisory Panel also looking at our constitutional arrangements. Their work suggests that there does not exist a lot of immediate national appetite to change the way we are set up as a country. But logically it makes no sense to me that we would change our flag while the Treaty settlement process is still on-going and while we are constitutionally speaking still tied to Britain. Some have cited Canada as a model for change. I do not believe the Canadian example is necessarily applicable to New Zealand, however, it is a compelling argument. Canada’s head of state is still the Queen of England but their flag does uniquely represent Canadians. There is an argument to be made that a flag change might propel us towards being a Republic, which would be a favourable outcome but I am not convinced that it will.

There is a Bill for the referendum to change the flag. The Select Committee just reported back on the Bill on the 29th of June. In a somewhat bizarre move, we are going to choose an alternative flag first and then decide whether we want to even change it. I think as a nation we should decide that we actually want a different flag first and then work to change it to something that reflects our identity, independence and culture. The media has been reporting that hardly anyone has shown up to the flag change meetings up and down the country which must be disappointing to the government.

The government often uses subjective understanding of what is a “priority” to them as way to refuse to address difficult policy problems. Changing the flag is not a civil rights issue and I think we can legitimately say that this change is really not a priority for Kiwis given the enormous problems the country is currently facing. I do think the flag should change. I do not think the current flag is inclusive or representative and I think it symbolizes a history of colonialism which is offensive. However, the process seems to be flawed and the timing seems to be wrong. I think John Key desperately wants something non-controversial to be part of his legacy as Prime Minister because “being really liked” is not very Statesman-esque. As ex-Minister Simon Power said in his valedictory speech – “Once in office, you’ve got to do something. That is why having a plan matters. Ideas also matter. In politics, ideas matter more than the political players themselves, because those people will come and go, but ideas endure.” John Key seems to be approaching this without a concrete plan. It is a good idea but it’s an ill-timed and ill thought out idea. I think the end result will be a banal flag with predictable designs. Like Canada, we will get used to it and accept it but I am not entirely sure that we will necessarily invoke John Key in our minds when we stand below it.

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.

What makes a symbol?

Special Edition #1

By Andrew Chen

Symbols are visual metaphors – we see something, and it evokes a set of pre-conceived knowledge. We see ☮ and we think peace, anti-war, pacifist protests of the 70s and 80s, and all the free love that went along with that. It’s a symbol that was used by British nuclear disarmament activists made from the semaphore signals for the letters N and D, later used by anti-war campaigners in the US, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, crossing national and cultural boundaries around the world. A simple symbol conveys a lot of information – after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.


A new flag is just another type of symbol – a visual image that should resoundly say “New Zealand” in a way that transcends language and geographic barriers. It should be something that we are proud of, something that when we carry overseas is immediately recognisable. When someone sees the flag, they should think “that’s a good country”. It should evoke some positive emotion, it should bring forth enjoyable memories, it should create some intangible sense that the country that the flag represents is of value. A new flag is as much a marketing exercise as it is about national identity.

In some ways it’s not too important what the actual symbol is, as long as it can be identified as uniquely New Zealand. That’s a good argument for why we should change the flag in the first place – the similarity to Australia’s flag does leave room for confusion, and from a branding perspective that leaves us in a dangerous place. Even with the status quo, New Zealanders do not proudly stand beside their flag – whether it’s at sporting events or when we’re selling tourism, the white fern on a black background features more commonly than our actual flag. For large swathes of the world and even large chunks of New Zealand, the existing flag evokes nothing. That’s something we need to fix.

Of course, symbols are not always independent or mutually exclusive. A flag is a place for multiple symbols to melt together, fighting for space on a limited canvas. The current flag perhaps uses symbols that do not exemplify New Zealand well, from the imperialistic vestige of the Union Jack to the naval waypoint of the Southern Cross (that we can’t even see half the time because of all the clouds). Most New Zealanders cannot relate to these symbols, and most foreigners cannot relate these symbols back to New Zealand. We’re long overdue for a rebrand.

For all the opponents who argue “why now?” the answer is that now is as good a time as any. We can postpone this indefinitely, but the longer we leave it, the longer our international image will be inhibited. We are lucky that we live in a country that doesn’t have the patriotic brainwashing of many others, and that we can even bring up the idea of changing the flag without being completely ostracised from society. The longer we leave the flag, the longer its legacy will last and the harder it will be to change. We have far better symbols than the existing flag, symbols that shout “NEW ZEALAND” to casual passers-by, symbols that New Zealanders are proud to show off to the world. Why should we continue to settle for a flag that poorly reflects who we are?

For all the opponents who argue that this process is costing too much, there’s no answer that will make them happy. Spend too little on the process and get accused of being undemocratic, spend too much and get accused of wasting public funds. How much is the right amount to spend? If we’re going through this process, it is far better to spend too much and get the flag right, than to spend too little and come up with a poor replacement. Let me be clear – we’re not going to be able to make everyone happy. That’s an unfortunate byproduct of politics and democracy, and sometimes compromises are not possible. There are indeed other important issues that need to be addressed, from poverty to housing to education. But our national identity is also similarly crucial, and getting this wrong has long lasting implications.

I don’t know what a new flag should look like. What I do know is that we have uniquely New Zealand symbols, from the Kiwi to the Silver Fern, that tell the world that New Zealanders aren’t far behind. When our young people go on their overseas experiences, I want a flag that makes the locals welcome the visitors with warm hugs. When our business people attend conferences and expos, I want a flag that makes people open up their wallets and trust that their money will be in good hands. When our team marches into the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, I want a flag that makes the crowd cheer louder than they cheer for any other country. We deserve a uniquely New Zealand flag to join our bag of symbols, a symbol that we can be proud of.

Nāu te Haki Nāku te Haki (Your Flag and My Flag)

Special Edition #1

By Ellipsister (Ed.)

Change the flag. Don’t change the flag. I’m ambivalent. Some suggest a new flag will enable us to move on from our colonist past. Others have endeared themselves to the monarchy so much so that they avidly defend our ties, and express their fury at the very mention of disposing of the Union Jack as part of our national identity. There are those, notably the RSA who view any change as a slap in the face to those who have served their country under the existing flag. A side issue, but one gaining much traction, concerns the $26 million price tag to fund the ‘Change the Flag’ campaign. But the flag debate is not really about the money.Or at least, it probably shouldn’t be. It’s about symbols and what many are hoping will birth a new sense of unity. However, I remain sceptical that a new flag will bring about anything close to what many of those pushing for the change are suggesting. One of my worries is the persistent reference to biculturalism to advance the need for a new flag. The idea is that a new flag will appropriately acknowledge the biculturalism of our country.  My issue is that rather than biculturalism being a concept understood as ‘two distinct cultures within a geographically defined space’, it is more often than not used as a euphemism for assimilation or incorporation.

Let me illustrate using cats:





Incorporation (a more subtle form of assimilation)


Note in both these latter examples, there are no longer two cats. We are also looking at the watering down, merging or selective picking of cultural aspects, which in my view risks rendering either or both cultures meaningless.We are also no longer talking in terms of biculturalism. In my opinion, the same applies when we talk about one flag to unite us all.

I have concerns around incorporating Māori symbols into the new flag because it feels, well, assimilatory especially since the national Māori flag does not have equal status to the New Zealand flag. You might have gathered by now then that I support dual national flags and I think that until the national Māori flag (i.e. the Tino Rangatiratanga flag) receives equal status with the New Zealand flag, then I care very little about changing the flag. I should of course note, that there is some opposition as to which flag represents a national Māori identity. However, in 2009 consultation hui were held throughout the country and 81% of participants favoured the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.

The argument for dual flags is not new. Te Ata Tino Toa also advocate a dual flag policy. They explain that ‘at the moment the Tino Rangatiratanga flag can only be flown by the Government on certain days, such as Waitangi Day, but that needs to change’. So despite the principle of partnership enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the government remain in control of the times at which Māori can express our unique identity. Before anyone argues ‘its separatist’ or a ‘barrier to one nation’, the Australian government recognises the Aboriginal national flag as having equal status to their national flag. Also, this one nation business is an expression of direct oppression of Māori. It reeks of assimilation. I also worry that if Māori symbols are incorporated into the national flag of New Zealand, then this could diminish any claims to sovereignty under Te Tiriti and may amount, or be perceived to amount to a surrender of our struggle for tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake. Additionally, any new flag will largely be decided by Pākehā and Tauiwi as the majority and therefore, it is not Māori who will determine which of our Māori symbols are included on the flag.

In saying that, I do think that a changed flag is probably a good idea. The existing flag is a reminder of a dark and painful history rather than a symbol of what we might hope for in the future. But as I said – I’d personally like to see equal status given to the Maori flag before seeing any flag change. Even if it’s not on the table at the moment.