The New Zealand Flag Debate

19 03 2016

For several years there has been an ongoing debate in New Zealand about whether or not to change the flag.  This debate has intensified in the last few weeks as there is currently a referendum being held on whether or not the Kiwi flag should be changed.  Throughout this post I will talk about each side of the flag debate and discuss how the issue has engulfed the nation.

The flag debate really caught fire when Prime Minister John Key was re-elected to office in September 2014.  Key felt the time was right to discuss changing the flag and is a staunch supporter of the change.  The government asked for submissions to be made by the public, leading to some interesting possibilities. It also led to the first of comedian John Oliver’s thoughts on the New Zealand flag debate (warning: NSFW).   In all,  10,292 submissions were submitted to the government.

Bad Flag Designs

Some of the rejected flag designs

The government initially cut this down to a long list of 40 flags, which led to a lot of public debate. It also led to the second of John Oliver’s rants on the subject.


The long list of 40 flags

This list was whittled down to five flags and the first referendum was held in May/June 2015:

Six Possible Flags

The five shortlisted flag and the current flag

After the first referendum the flag in the top right corner of the above photo was chosen to run against the current New Zealand flag.  This is when the true debate really began to heat up.

The case for keeping the current flag:

Current Flag

The current New Zealand flag

The current version of the New Zealand flag was adopted in 1902 and has ‘stood the test of time’.  It is the flag that Kiwi soldiers fought under in both World War I and World War II and is a very important part of New Zealand’s history.  The flag is representative of New Zealand’s connection with the British Empire and the southern cross represents their geographical location in the south Pacific.  The government has already spent $26 million of taxpayer’s money on these referendums and to actually change the flag would cost even more.   The new flag does not acknowledge the colonial history of New Zealand and looks more like a beach towel than a flag.  The new flag also has bad feng shui, which could lead to bad luck for New Zealanders. If there were to be a new flag, the emblem should be symmetrical so that the flag could fly in any direction.

The case for changing the flag:

New Flag

The proposed New Zealand flag

The current version of the New Zealand flag makes the country look like a four star British hotel.  It is an outdated flag that focuses too much on New Zealand’s colonial past rather than presenting New Zealand as an independent, sovereign nation.  While the current flag does acknowledge the British history of New Zealand it fails to acknowledge the Maori heritage or the heritage of other ethnic groups throughout the nation.  Changing the flag would help create a new identity in New Zealand and would allow New Zealanders to fly a flag they felt was unique to them. The addition of the silver fern on the flag represents the grit, guts, and genius of New Zealand while still acknowledging the past.   The silver fern was the predominant badge of the army in World War I and was the official insignia in World War II.

The final referendum is currently ongoing and the results will be announced on 24th March.

The flag debate is a frequently discussed topic these days and many celebrities have made their feelings known. All Blacks, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have come out in support of the new flag, while actor Sam Neill, talk show host Paul Henry, and the mother of the musician Lorde have come out in favour of keeping the current flag.  John Oliver, on the other hand, has a totally different idea for the new flag (warning NSFW). Oliver isn’t the only international attention the flag debate has given New Zealand as it was recently mentioned on the Big Bang Theory.

Regardless of the result of the referendum one thing the flag debate has done is create an increased sense of patriotism in New Zealand.  These days it is very common to see both flags flying on buildings, while many people have shown support for their flag by buying car flags or flags for their houses.

The idea of a commonwealth country changing its flag is not a new one by any means.  Several other commonwealth nations have done the same throughout the Twentieth Century.  I feel that the changing of the New Zealand flag is inevitable, although it may not happen this time around.


Changing flags of the Commonwealth nations

I would be interested to learn your opinion on the flag debate.  If you are so inclined, please post a comment on whether or not you think New Zealand should change their flag, or vote on my twitter poll – linked below (click on the date).






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