When an obscure subject such as the flag suddenly becomes a priority for a New Zealand Government, one has every right to be wondering what dodgy thing they want to distract us from. Whilst it is certainly an old obsolete flag not representative of the New Zealand of the 21st Century, and I am normally in support of changing it, the unprovoked fascination with changing it by Prime Minister John Key in recent months is cause for concern.
Perhaps Mr Key really is genuinely interested in changing the flag. Certainly he has shown interest in different designs that have been put forward. Certainly he has not been afraid to discuss the similarities between the Islamic State flag and the de facto New Zealand flag, the Silver Fern, both of which have black backgrounds. Although I can understand some peoples concerns about the black backgrounds of the flags, the New Zealand Silver Fern has always been on a black background and I see no reason to change it not least because in many respects this flag is more identifiable as a distinctly New Zealand flag, than the official one.
Of course we should eventually change the flag. I have my own ideas about how it should look and what the process for changing it should be, but there are more important issues to tackle such as affordable housing, sorting out the ongoing insurance woes in Christchurch and cleaning up the shambles that the restorative justice programme is quickly becoming. Other more severe critics of this Government also wonder if it is intended to be a foil for an impending announcement on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, a supposed Free Trade Agreement generating abnormally severe criticism because of its secrecy.
I said earlier that I believe there is a time when dealing with the flag would become appropriate. That would be when the issue of our constitutional arrangements is next raised. It would be appropriate to then address the issue because it would only be legitimately done through a binding referendum. As binding referendum should be the only way to change laws and symbols that affect the identity and functionality of the New Zealand nation, the legitimacy of a binding referendum that comes out in support of a flag change would be unquestionable.
Before that though there needs to be a thorough debate about the issue and whether or not to proceed. The views of the Returned Services Association needs to be acknowledge as many of their members fought for the existence of the current New Zealand flag. Many of them lost comrades on faraway battlefields for it. Another group whose views need to be acknowledged are those of Maori whose flag is that of Tino Rangitiratanga – which I think is not a bad looking flag, but its political connotations due to its links to Maori sovereignty activists would put of a lot of people.
The time will come again. It could be at the next election, or if an organization or individual is able to collect 320,000+ signatures (the necessary number to force a referendum). But that time is not now.