The Six Dumbest Objections to Changing our Flag

Gareth MorganTreaty

You should never change your flag

While change for change’s sake is not desirable as people get an affinity for the familiar and come to love their flag, it is ridiculous to assert that no matter what, changing the flag is not acceptable. Aotearoa New Zealand has changed its flags several times, only those ignorant of our history don’t know that.

In modern times Canada is an example of a country that changed its flag in order to celebrate getting rid of the last vestiges of British colonial rule and to celebrate the spirit of its independence. South Africa, another former British colony is a second example. There, the “Rainbow Nation” has become the strong multicultural identity for the new South Africa, after it finally escaped from under the iron fist of the white supremacist regime with the election of Nelson Mandela.

What these examples have in common is that the societies had achieved substantial progress and reform that rendered the message of the incumbent flag obsolete.

Since 1975 Aotearoa New Zealand has achieved similar reform with the official acknowledgement that it is the Treaty of Waitangi that is the nation’s founding document, not the unilateral and unlawful declaration of colonisation by Governor Hobson in May 1840. It has taken a long time for us to acknowledge that fact and of course these days there are over 300 pieces of legislation and regulation that specifically acknowledge the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi in their jurisdiction.

It is therefore both misleading and an insult to tangata whenua to retain a defaced British naval ensign – the ubiquitous symbol of British colonisation – as the symbol of Aotearoa New Zealand. The people of this country, no less than the citizens of the United Kingdom and the USA, deserve a flag that represents who were are, rather than some relic from a bygone era. We are a proud multicultural society formed as the result of a unique treaty signed between the settler migrants and the indigenous society.

Our soldiers died for the flag

While this rationale is one we might expect from someone who has overdosed on war movies or comics, it is actually an insult to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man.

Our armed forces get involved in overseas conflicts that threaten the way of life of our allies and ourselves. Our government, representing us all, makes the decision that we will engage personnel in conflict zones. Our soldiers die.

To suggest somehow that they have made the ultimate sacrifice for a flag rather than for their families and fellow citizens is worse than trivializing their memory – it belittles the rationale for war. They have not fought for a flag, they have done it to protect our rights and liberties. There is no comparison with the simplified war comic images of soldiers charging over battlements behind the flag bearer.

We are all from Britain

Hardly worthy of a response if it weren’t for the numbers who actually believe this.

All one can say is – “look around, we’re definitely are not all from the old country, or even descended from those that are”. But anyway, so what? The flag should hardly be about doffing one’s cap to the lords of some place that settlers were trying to escape. People who hold this view really are so far behind reality on the issue of the Treaty of Waitangi and the place of the bicultural founding document in our constitution, that it strengthens the case for compulsory civics education for all voters.

I like it

We all know there’s a certain comfort in familiarity. The unfamiliar brings with it risk and uncertainty and many folk prefer not to be disturbed – about anything. It’s a view they’re perfectly entitled to but it is not a path to progress, it’s ultimately a regressive approach to life and based on the delusion that one can live in a nostalgic, static past. The reality of that type of inertia is the world passes you by and you become a dinosaur – particularly to your own children.

The Regressives cannot escape the fact that a national flag is supposed to represent something and our current one represents oppression and an unlawful colonisation. There is nothing there to be proud of, so familiarity is insufficient reason to prolong its existence.

Waste of money

This is a common moan and I’m sure there are ways it could have been done more cost effectively. But the magnitude of the $26m expense has to be kept in perspective – it is a few hours of the over-generous NZ Super handout that taxpayers continue to spend far too much on year in year out. So the amount, relative to that injustice, is minuscule. Some have cited the war on poverty as a more “deserving” cause. Well that lot needs to really look at the money being wasted on the NZ Superannuation handout before they can expect their thought to be credible. The amount of money that could be saved there and spent on poverty is many, many times the $26m spent on national identity.

So the message here is forget it and get on with thinking about the issue – what do we want represented on our flag instead of colonial oppression?

Flags don’t matter, do something important

The strongest nations in the world are patriotic and value their flag. Tell the British, the Americans, the Canadians or the liberated South Africans that their flag doesn’t matter and see what response you get.

This is part and parcel of the problem the Prime Minister has identified. He has said publicly that he wants to see a greater sense of patriotism in Aotearoa New Zealand. A flag that means something about what it is to be a New Zealander is part of that process.

There’s a major difference between patriotism and nationalism, where the former is about being proud of and prepared to defend the values your nation is founded upon (which is why I’d like to see a written constitution here) while nationalism often comes with an intolerance to other regimes, races, religions and societies. Nobody could accuse Aotearoa New Zealand of this.

But there is a question to ask about our lethargy and pride in the values of our society. Since 1975 there has been a revolution in our country where officially we have faced up to the lie of British colonisation and moved the Treaty of Waitangi to centre stage as our founding document. This should be a process of enormous pride amongst New Zealanders but arguably we still have an ignorant rump of Kiwis who are not up to speed on what has occurred.

On an optimistic note younger New Zealanders are across this change far more than folk of my generation so the inertia of ignorance is transitory only. However, pride in our country’s achievements and in the initiatives our government undertakes internationally is something that is really quite weak in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to the countries mentioned above.

The flag – along with the constitution, the name of the country, the national anthem – matters.


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The Six Dumbest Objections to Changing our Flag was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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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.