Over the last two years you will have heard Prime Minister John Key trumpeting the need for a new New Zealand flag. You will have seen photos, messages and other media on Facebook regarding it. You will have seen it in newspapers, on television and heard about it on the radio and through various media on the internet. You might have seen examples of the proposed flag designs flying whilst going about your daily business.
And yet this is turning out to be an issue that could backfire disastrously for National and in particular Mr Key. It is an issue that seems to be dividing New Zealanders. Many think a flag change is a great idea and point to the similarities between ours and that of Australia. Others are dead set against it, in particular those from the older generation who fought under the current flag and know people who died for it. In that category you can put the Returned Services Association, royalists and also those who think it would be best to wait until Queen Elizabeth II passes on. And then there are some, like myself who think it is a smoke screen for something bad that National is trying to get us to accept – possibly the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
The Government have put forward five options for the flag to become.
But in failing to provide a status quo option, they have assumed that New Zealanders WANT a new flag in the near future. They have made a flying leap over the cliff without seeing what their proposals will land on, which based on the disgruntlement that I am hearing from both National and non-National supporters on this, I am guessing is going to be a particular hard landing. Given that this is one of the most distinctive New Zealand symbols and the one nations overseas that are not familiar with the All Blacks or the Silver Fern will identify us by, the potential for anger and upset if the Government does not respect the wishes of the masses, is immense.
Another problem National face is the exquisitely shocking timing of the whole flag issue as it tries to gather support for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Why now? Why after 20 years of sitting on their hands doing nothing, like Labour on the other side of the House, has this suddenly become such a huge priority that before the end of 2015 there will have been a referendum asking us which of the flag options we prefer. It is just interesting to note that in early 2016 Governments involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will try to get their respective countries to agree to it.
What I find particularly interesting here is that I have friends who are generally quite strong National supporters, but who are admitting to me that this whole flag thing could end up being a colossal mistake that this Government will regret. They do not see why it should suddenly be a massive issue. They do not think that the public actually want it at the moment and some have admitted that the way National have gone about it was wrong. National is treading on very unstable ground here. It does not want give Labour anything that might rejuvenate their long time foe in Parliament. It does not want to move so brazenly that the voting public hand it a stinging rebuke that ensures this is the last term of this National-led Government.
And yet, it looks like that is precisely what they are doing.
The voting papers for the first of two referendums regarding the New Zealand flag have been sent out. Mine arrived today. Everyone on the electoral roll should receive theirs by Friday 27 November.