Engaging with the NZ flag debate



John Key has stolen a march on the Left by pushing for new New Zealand flag, and planning a referendum process to choose the best design.

Labour and the Greens have endorsed the referendum process, but as far as I can tell they haven’t fully engaged John Key on the substantive issues.

Key has been able to present himself as the progressive, acting more boldly on a key nationhood issue than did his predecessor, Helen Clark.

In his speech at Victoria University announcing the move, Key rightly criticised the current flag design, which “remains dominated by the Union Jack” and “symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed.” He said that we should “be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand’s.”

We shouldn’t let the contradictions in Key’s stance go unchallenged. For example, Key claims that “we are fiercely protective of our independent foreign policy, and rightly so” at the same time as he leads a government which has avoided any stance that might annoy Washington. About the only independent strand of foreign policy left is our nuclear-free status. John Key has been unmoved by the Snowden revelations on mass global surveillance, and our Government Communications Security Bureau remains a loyal part of the NSA-led Five Eyes electronic spying network.

How is it consistent for Key to admit that our flag represents a colonial era whose time has passed yet not apply the same analysis to having a British monarch as our head of state? Instead, Key says the monarchy “continues to serve us well.” We still have a battle on our hands to get a New Zealander in our top constitutional position and it is good to see the “New Zealand Head of State” group (formerly the Republican Movement) taking up this challenge.

Sometimes the campaign for a new flag and a New Zealand head of state is dismissed as not being a priority, or something that can be dealt with later. This is wrong because the progressive movement has to be fighting across the range of social justice, environmental and democratic issues, and people selecting different issues to concentrate on helps us cover the field. We are also a multi-tasking species and in my experience people campaigning on a particular progressive issue generally become more politically aware and get involved in other progressive issues.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

If New Zealand gets a new flag and detaches itself from the British monarchy this will help us deal with issues like child poverty. There are various ways in which poor people are brainwashed into thinking that others deserve to live in great luxury while they are mired in poverty. Celebration of the no-expense-spared Royal Family is one of the most insidious forms of this propaganda. When the visiting Prince William and Kate are in Queenstown next month they will be staying in the $12,000-a-night Matakauri Lodge (although the promotional value for the owners is so great that they are giving a big discount). However, the biggest beef I have with the monarchy is not its lavish life-style, but that is colonises our minds. We shouldn’t look up to people, and bow and scrape before them, simply because they were born into a certain family. Confident Kiwis, with our own flag and own homegrown head of state, are better equipped to change society for the better.


  1. Of course the flag thing should not be featuring in an election year, but having said that, it is probably time for us to have a new unique flag and as luck would have it, you have used my choice as a new flag for your illustration.
    I would just cringe if we go for a logo and a black one at that for a flag. No pirate black flag, please.
    Anyway, as I heard someone say the other day, why don’t we just wait till after the Scottish referendum, because, if they go with independence there will be no Union Jack any more

    • I agree a change is to be considered.

      The Union Jack in the corner could go, but lets not forget the colours that have established New Zealand internationally: Red, White, Blue.

      These are the very colours and variations the major flags developed form their history, UK, Russia, France, China, Japan, USA (Hawaii).

      Remember as Maori we did not have a flag but if Maori wish black to be the colour added to a new flag so be it, we already have Red & White.

      I am for a flag review, but not a low level black-silver combo that simply supports the All Black rugby culture.

      – See more at: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/03/17/engaging-with-the-nz-flag-debate-2/#comment-202286

      • I heard a better design suggested on the radio: a big stylised red herring swimming in a sea of blue.

  2. Great points – wrong year to consider the flag.

    As a Kiwi having lived in the UK for 7 years, I can boldly say that NZ IS still a British colony… Well, in every sense that Britain still has colonies. BUT, the Union Jack can go, it doesn’t represent anything anymore, particularly if Scottland ascends.

    I think we should add some some colour. We are a colourful nation, with colourful politicians. I say green, white, silver, black and red… Leave out the blue for now.

  3. Key has stolen a march on the Left,you say?

    nah he aint
    It was brought out as a DIVERSION to the Collins debacle and all the other fuckups that are starting to boil over into the public arena…….

    nothing more and nothing less…

    • Absolutely RISILDOWGTN. This article is almost pointless in the sense that it misses the point so spectacularly.

  4. and “symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed.”

    Just bullshit and spin, if this is what he really thought then he wouldn’t have re-instated the peerage system and given out knighthoods like lollies to people who are in already in paid positions to do their what they do.

  5. I was wondering if John Keys interest in a change of flag was because when he has signed our sovereignty away to the American Multi Nationals the current flag does not fit in with American ownership of New Zealand.

    Perhaps the silver fern is a smokescreen to the kind of flag he really wants – which would be a flag which reflects ties with America.

  6. Totally agree with Risildowgtn and Akldnut, and there are hell of alot more important issues to worry about than a flaming flag.

  7. Keith – what have you been smoking? The idea that detaching ourselves from the monarchy will help us deal with child poverty is wishful thinking. Do you really think that “if New Zealand gets a new flag and detaches itself from the British monarchy” this will help us deal with issues like child poverty?. While it might well be true that “poor people are brainwashed in various ways into thinking that others deserve to live in great luxury while they are mired in poverty”, its naive to imply republicanism will solve this or even begin to solve it. There are many anti-monarchist republics around the world who have even worse records than us starting with the United States. Republican ideology in and of itself has done little to address class struggle.

  8. The flag debate probably is a diversion but I’d be for changing the flag. We don’t need the Union Jack to show our British heritage. A black flag is a silly idea I think but I can’t buy into the RSA line that a fern looks too similar to a symbol of cowardice. I think that is an insult to many of our relatives buried overseas under the fern symbol. They also fought for their country and families, not necessarily for the flag. Our flag is not distinctive enough and it’s often mistaken for Australia’s. As for more important issues to worry about – we have more than a couple of brain cells so we can concentrate on several things at once surely. I don’t see that changing the flag has got to be linked to any republican movement either. Canada still has the Queen long after a change of flag. I’d trust the Queen before any politician, that’s for sure.

  9. The discussion on changing the flag should go hand in hand with becoming a republic. If the latter isn’t happening, and I doubt it will be within National, then anything John Key says about being independent and our colonial past is a load of bollocks.

    Also, there’s the fact that this government brought back the Queens Honours system which, again, is completely contradictory to being an independent state.

  10. I agree with DTB. If we become a republic, then that would be the time to change the flag.

    The current flag seems far more attractive, aesthetically, than any of the suggested alternatives.

  11. All national flags in this country’s history arose as a result of a need and/or to commemorate major political change. The flag of The United Tribes was necessary for shipping and commemorated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Union Jack after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The origins of the current flag in the 1860’s was necessary according to colonial shipping requirements, later adopted as the national flag after New Zealand’s rejection of inclusion in the Australian Federation, patriotism during the Boer War and shortly thereafter New Zealand becoming a dominion. Given this pedigree, what necessity or major political change are we presented with at present to necessitate a change of flag?

    Granted many of the previous flags originated in order to comply with colonial shipping laws, after all our national origins revolve around a seafaring heritage due to geography and then, Britain ruled the waves, thus the need for compliance for trade. In these modern times of globalisation its unlikely a flag has the significance it once had. Shipping done by private companies many registered under Panama or Liberia is standard since the 20th century. Even when we refer to nations reference is made with names, with the average person possibly oblivious to the identity of many of the accompanying flags. A flag today seems more or less just a corporate logo for a national brand.

    What’s the major political change to commemorate with a new flag? The TPPA? A mystery agreement that if similar ones are considered will likely empower the corporate sector and diminish the nation’s sovereignty.

    I don’t know what’s the angle with this government’s flag game and considering their track record of treachery and arrogance, won’t kid myself into believing there’s anything benevolent to it. Anyway this appears to be influenced by ideas from the previous National Government:

    [I]n 1998 Prime Minister Jenny Shipley backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler’s call for the flag to be changed. Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national silver fern flag, using a white silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag…


    [S]hipley also has business interests in China and is currently on the board of the China Construction Bank.

    According to Companies Office records, Jack Chen, Jenny Shipley and another investor founded a business together in 2004 called New Zealand Pure & Natural. Mr Chen quit as a director a year later but only quit his shareholding in 2010. Mr Chen was instrumental in promoting the ‘Chinese Business Roundtable Council’ in NZ, and set up a new political party in NZ, before being forced to resign due to fraud and corruption charges being laid in Hong Kong.


    Even if this government’s motive is something as shallow as a flag change being the equivalent of some cheap corporate logo for the national brand, they’ve failed miserably; dairy company in Chile brutally bludgeoning calves, recent dairy scare, 100% pure campaign – pure bull plop, old ideals of egalitarianism confined to the imagination. Frankly if the serious issues are ignored this entire flag change issue is farcical.

    I don’t care for the monarchy, in essence it’s a symbolic head on the other side of the world with declining relevance. However the drivers of our inequality are homegrown, prejudice and the wealthy quislings that have been plundering here wholesale, such as our dear leader who for all we know may be wealthier than the Queen, the quisling hypocrite who invited the upcoming royal visit. We are our worst enemy. Considering all the prejudice that exists in this country, I doubt any homegrown head of state will be better, quite the contrary.

    This government by breaching the Bill of Rights and regularly operating like a Middle-Eastern dictatorship by passing legislation urgently, should be the last government to remotely suggest anything related to this country’s future soveignty. Indeed we can thank a Middle-Eastern absolute monarchy for providing one of the few informative and cerebral TV channels free-to-air (Al Jazeera), compare this to our democratic government who eviserated our state-broadcaster from such quality programming.

    If a new flag is born from this travesty, I would forever view it as a soiled pair of underpants hitched up a pole by those who violated the country. A country that would take pride in dirty laundry aired before the world would be mad. Thankfully polls have revealed no interest in this whole farce.

    I recall reading a dull opinion piece in the NZ Herald regarding this topic, an interesting suggestion was posed by a commenter in response who suggested; flags are symbols associated with nationalism and war, perhaps we should be the first country to ditch the flag altogether.

  12. Am I the only one who gets the shivers when white people talk about a colonial past. Or talk about post-colonialism?

  13. This is nothing more than populist politics in an election year and an obvious distraction from actual and important issues. I don’t care if we have a polka-dot flag as long as we stop undermining the integrity of the nation state. Key really knows how to play the bread and circus game.

  14. Why would anyone spend more time than it takes to write this to discuss the colour of a piece of cloth?

  15. Regarding the Monarchy. As one British columnist put it…Why should the fact that a baby squelches from a particular person’s womb, give him/her a favoured position totally bound by heredity?

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