Braving the flag

by Bill Ralston / 07 March, 2016
An edge of hysteria is creeping into most debates in New Zealand these days – and it’s not pretty.
Photo/Getty Images
Photo/Getty Images


Stand by your letter box – sometime in the next few days your ballot papers will arrive in part two of the great flag referendum of 2016. Never before has the nation been so gripped by a political debate … No! Wait! Come back! Keep reading, please?

Yes, I know, it can be a really boring issue. Sigh. It is hard to get passionate about changing a piece of coloured cloth for another piece of coloured cloth. I have a hard enough time trying to pick what colour T-shirt to wear of a morning let alone decide whether we should go for the new flag design or old one.

I eventually decided we did need the new one. It has a silver fern and the Southern Cross; what’s more brand New Zealand than that? Besides, why have we got the ensign of another nation, the United Kingdom, on our flag? I could have sworn it unceremoniously dumped us in the 1970s to run off with that tarty European Economic Community.

That move cost us dearly. Then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon borrowed hugely to make up the loss of income from trade with the UK, poured heaps into some doomed “Think Big” projects that were eventually mothballed and left the incoming Labour Government to hold a fire sale of our assets so we didn’t end up bankrupt like Greece is today. Thanks, Britain, I really want your Union Jack on our flag to remind me of that divorce.

So when I was asked to do a commercial extolling the virtues of the new flag, I thought what a good idea. Dumb idea, Bill. The various folk in the video who voiced an opinion in favour of change, including me, were derided and condemned by a vocal bunch who favour keeping the old blue ensign. Apparently the vocal bunch are allowed a view, but according to them, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and the rest of the dreaded “celebrities” in the video aren’t allowed to express their opinion.

There is an edge of hysteria creeping into most debates in New Zealand these days, even a debate as boring as the one about the flag. I was in the supermarket recently when the wife of one of the country’s leading artists bellowed at me in outrage that I was supporting a “tea towel” for a flag and she had seen me in the commercial. I took safe refuge in the fruit and vegetable section.

Another reason there is some rising tension around the debate is that the part of the country who hate John Key, and are sick of losing successive general elections to him, see the flag change as a Key ­initiative and so want to defeat it. They seem to have forgotten that changing the flag was a Labour plank at the last election.

Actually, Labour seems to have forgotten that too. The first person to seriously advocate we change the flag several years ago was Wellington businessman Lloyd Morrison. Aware that he is probably damaging the flag-change cause, Key has done a turtle and pulled his head in, but it may be too late.

Key is right when he says this is the only chance we’ll have during our lifetime to change the flag. If an idea is dumped at a referendum, no other government is likely to try to ­resuscitate it. He mentioned that we would have to become a republic before the flag change is raised again. Let’s face it, the prospect of William and Kate and baby George is enough to keep Kiwis plugged into the monarchy for a couple more generations.

Anyway, when the voting papers come through the letter box, make sure you do vote. I don’t care whether you favour the existing flag or want a change, just vote.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.

Latest

The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne Carter's rise to the top
107207 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Music

The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne…

by Mike White

Shayne Carter’s career has been wild and acclaimed. But his just-released memoir reveals the drama and trauma going on behind the scenes.

Read more
Rare photos of the Straitjacket Fits by Brian Murphy
The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypothermia
107150 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Television

The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypot…

by Diana Wichtel

Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale packs a punch, despite some implausible scenes, writes Diana Wichtel.

Read more
Christchurch mosque attacks: Accused pleads not guilty to all charges
107204 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch mosque attacks: Accused pleads not gu…

by Anneke Smith

The man accused of the Christchurch terror attacks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges laid against him.

Read more
One thing is certain: Political biffo is unavoidable in NZ Parliament
107183 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Politics

One thing is certain: Political biffo is unavoidab…

by Bevan Rapson

Despite overdue efforts to improve Parliament's culture, political biffo will always be with us.

Read more
The sweeping proposal to lower speed limits is on the skids – it's a good thing
107144 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Social issues

The sweeping proposal to lower speed limits is on…

by The Listener

Transport officials’ enthusiasm for a sweeping lowering of speed limits looks set to go the way of the once-proposed ban on cats in dairies.

Read more
Are New Zealand's intelligence agencies watching the right people?
107185 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Social issues

Are New Zealand's intelligence agencies watching t…

by Phil Pennington

New Zealanders who feel they've done nothing wrong have found themselves under surveillance by the state and say they've been left nervous.

Read more
Never Look Away: A flawed masterpiece about life in WWII-era Germany
107122 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Movies

Never Look Away: A flawed masterpiece about life i…

by James Robins

Epic drama captures an artist navigating the upheavals of Nazi and post-war Germany.

Read more