PM’s flag preference is underwhelming

Gareth MorganTreaty

Prime Minister John Key contextualised his decision to invoke the flag change process with an update of his thinking published in the national dailies last Saturday.

Much of what he says I endorse totally. Our current flag is not only passed its used-by date, as a 19th Century defaced British naval ensign it was never a flag chosen by New Zealanders. It is a depiction of national identity imposed by the occupying power and in light of the Treaty of Waitangi now officially being recognised as our founding document, an insult to Maoridom. It has to go.

Of course there are many New Zealanders who can’t understand this and others who simply refuse to acknowledge reality. Such is the burden that progress always faces – inertia from the rump of public opinion. But as the discussion has progressed since the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Flag Consideration Panel eight months ago, there has emerged at least a wider public understanding of what our current flag means and why it is so inappropriate.

Moving to an alternative however is where the things are stuck. Firstly the Prime Minister clearly wants his preference to be chosen and that does somewhat taint the integrity of using public referenda to arrive at a decision.

Mr Key has politicised the process, and so some will oppose whatever he prefers regardless, thereby undermining the entire exercise.

The Prime Minister wants the silver fern. His rationale was spelt out in Saturday’s newspapers. He simply wants the flag to be a brand, he has no interest whatsoever in any meaning beyond that. It’s all about recognition for Mr Key. He loves the Canadian flag for that reason and he adorns himself with silver fern badges and insignia when he attends sports events. He notes the rugby crowd all have a silver fern somewhere on our attire when we roll up for the game. And that for Mr Key that means we have chosen or endorsed the fern as the symbol of who we are.

That logic’s pretty shallow.

England has the red rose on its rugby jerseys but its flag is the Union Jack; Wales has the Prince of Wales feathers on their rugby jerseys and their flag is the Welsh dragon; South Africa has the Springbok, its flag is the amalgam of ANC and Dutch Tricolour colours; Australian rugby jerseys have the Wallaby, the flag we all know is different, France the Gallic rooster. So this idea that the flag must be the same as the motif on national sports teamwear certainly doesn’t fly with almost all other rugby nations.

I suspect Mr Key’s thoughts on this issue don’t run much deeper than corporate branding. That’s disappointing don’t you think?

National flags more often than not tell a story about the formation of the nation, what its values are and what it stands for – as the Flag Consideration Panel’s first question to the public asked. They are not a logo – many firms will incorporate recognisable aspects of their nation’s various insignia within their own brands and logos. Here are some examples:


To suggest the national flag should just be another corporate brand like this is underwhelming, a shallow facsimile of what a national flag could be.

Let’s get serious here. New Zealand has just undertaken a 40-year process to reinstitute the legitimate basis of how our nation was formed. The Treaty of Waitangi is recognised officially as the founding document now, it is incorporated already in over 300 laws and regulations.

New Zealand is seeking to honour, albeit belatedly, the truth of arrangements between indigenous peoples and subsequent migrants. This is a huge achievement, and a major differentiating factor between us and Australia, Canada or the US for that matter. We should be extremely proud of this – forgive me, but it means more than the All Blacks winning.

What better way to celebrate such a coming of age, than to adopt a flag that recognises that milestone, recognises that we have one of the most multicultural societies on earth, a society that also has a bicultural treaty at its heart – an agreement that establishes the legitimacy of all migrants to call themselves New Zealanders? This is our uniqueness. We have a wonderful opportunity here to present a flag that defines, who we the New Zealanders actually are.

The silver fern, while one of our many national motifs, simply doesn’t cut the mustard as a national flag. It has insufficient content.


PM’s flag preference is underwhelming was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

Facebook Twitter

Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.