So, New Zealand has (not)spoken. After a year of trying to promote the flag choices, the referendum that was set down for a three week period from 20 November 2015 to 11 December 2015 has closed and the preliminary results are out.
Almost immediately it becomes obvious that there is a significant level of disenchantment with the whole thing across the spectrum by New Zealanders. Some republicans and monarchists alike have spoken out against the change – something one might not have expected since the current flag, which many including myself want kept (for the time being – more on that later)has a symbol of Britannia on it in the top left corner. The disenchantment though is about more than just republicans and monarchists somehow managing to agree on something for a change. It is about the fact that New Zealanders simply did not seem to seriously want this whole flag change exercise from the outset, no matter what Prime Minister John Key tells you.
Contrary to what Mr Key says, a Prime Minister probably would take it on in the future if there was a clearly defined desire for a change – which there is not – but only if they were absolutely certain of the ground on which they stand. Mr Key appears quite certain of the ground he stands on, but the ground others stand on is quite different. And when some of my National Party mates, whom I normally disagree with on just about everything political come to you and say they agree with my stance on the flag, it is worthwhile pausing to think about why. They are well educated, and have been to university and can articulate clearly what they were saying, so there is no doubt I heard correctly.
So, here we are at the end of the first referendum. Option A (far right) has won, but the third place getter was not a flag, but the casual votes. And more critically, less than half the total electorate actually bothered returning their ballot papers. What does that tell you, the reader, about this whole exercise? I have said before what I think of the exercise. However I would like to describe how I would run the process – if it actually had to happen (which for the sake of this we will assume the answer is “yes”):
- First, a binding referendum – I can see the reasons for Mr Key avoiding it, as a “No” vote would instantly have killed the whole thing – to establish, not just for the immediate benefit, but also the longer term benefit of New Zealand asking “Should New Zealand adopt a new flag”.
- If NO, then concede, but perhaps pass legislation that ensures a minimum period before this can be tackled again and the circumstances on which it can happen; if YES then:
- Establish a panel to work out the procedure and announce it
- Invite submissions of flag designs over a several month period
- Eliminate the less succesful submissions
- Announce a final four or five
- A run off to narrow it down to two
- A second run off to decide the final design
- Have the Supreme Court certify it is final
Those are just my ideas. However, I think it is fairer. The process ACTUALLY being used makes the assumption New Zealanders want a change, which is wrong. No assumptions should be made, except that New Zealanders know what they want and if the result is close, then the referendum was too soon or more work needs to be done.