IT'S TIME FOR A CHANGE
4 February 2010
WE NEED A NEW FLAG
Today, two days from Waitangi Day, the Herald starts a serious debate about changing the national flag. The familiar flag with its Union Jack dates from an era when New Zealand became a British dominion.
We believe an independent nation deserves something more distinctive.
A majority of New Zealand's most eminent citizens say it's time
to change the New Zealand flag.
A Herald survey of 18 of the 22 members of the Order of New Zealand -
the country's highest honour - has found 11 of them believe it is time
for a new flag. Only five oppose a change at this time. One is unsure
and one is unwilling to comment.
The survey comes as debate about the flags of both New Zealand and Australia,
which still feature Britain's Union Jack, starts again on both sides of
Here, the Tino Rangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty) flag will fly with
the national ensign on the Harbour Bridge, at the Prime Minister's official
residence in Wellington and on other official buildings on the 170th anniversary
this Saturday of the Treaty of Waitangi, as a gesture of reconciliation
between the two Treaty partners.
In Australia, former TV journalist Ray Martin launched a push for a new
flag just before Australia Day last month, supported by prominent authors,
sportspeople and former politicians.
But opinion polls until now have consistently found most of the public
in both countries oppose change. The last New Zealand poll, by Nielsen
for North & South magazine in 2008, found only 25 per cent support
for changing the flag, and 62 per cent opposed.
A Galaxy poll for News Ltd newspapers in Australia last month found only
27 per cent for change and 45 per cent against.
Ironically, the Herald survey of Order of NZ members has found that one
of the strongest factors driving their support for a new flag here is
the fact that few can tell the Australian and NZ flags apart.
"Our flag is too much like Australia's and most people in the world
don't know the difference," said former All Black captain Sir Brian
He said New Zealand supporters at international sports events already
waved what had become the de facto national flag - the silver fern on
a black background. "We should take notice of what people do who
support us. The people have been giving us a message about the flag they
Former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard said: "You ask an
American what flag you are flying - either flag - and they will say that's
the Australian flag. I don't think we should have a mixed-up identity."
Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger said even officials sometimes got the
two flags confused. "On the commemoration of the landing in Europe
at the end of the Second World War, the Australian High Commissioner in
London walked down off the podium and picked up the New Zealand flag and
proudly carried it off," he said.
"When I got down, I picked up the Australian one because that was
the only one that was left. These things can happen; there is a similarity
Others said that, 63 years after the Statute of Westminster formally
made NZ independent in 1947, it was time to drop the Union Jack.
Former Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves said the diversification of both
trade and population had taken NZ a long way from "everything the
Union Jack represents" since Britain joined the European Community
"I think Britain did us a favour," he said. "They realigned
themselves, and we had to realign ourselves, and that's good."
Our survey found there was no consensus on what should replace the present
flag but the silver fern was the most popular, mentioned favourably by
seven of the 11 who support a change.
However, Lady June Blundell, widow of Governor-General Sir Denis, opposed
a change "because of the many lives we have lost fighting under the
Former Prime Minister Mike Moore and former Commonwealth Secretary-General
Sir Donald McKinnon both warned against rushing into change without debate
on wider constitutional issues and public support. "These things
are evolutionary and you have got to take people with you," Sir Don
Current Prime Minister John Key said the issue was "not on our agenda"
and Opposition leader Phil Goff said he did not believe most New Zealanders
supported a change.
Wellington businessman Lloyd Morrison, who in 2005 tried to gather signatures
for a citizens-initiated referendum on the issue, said all the arguments
raised against a change, such as honouring those who had died fighting
under the present flag, were also used in Canada before it swapped the
Union Flag for the maple leaf in 1965.
"Today I doubt if you could muster 1 per cent of the Canadian population
who would go back to the old flag."
LONG TO FLY OVER US
The New Zealand flag is the symbol of the realm, government and the people
of New Zealand and although it was adopted in 1902 it hasn't always been
the official flag. For 60 years from 1840, the Union Jack was flown on
New Zealand flagpoles.
* The royal blue background represents the sea and sky. The stars of
the Southern Cross emphasise New Zealand's location in the South Pacific.
The Union Jack in the first quarter recognises New Zealand's origins as
a British colony and dominion.
* A flag to represent New Zealand was broached in 1830 when a New Zealand
trading ship was seized by Sydney customs officials for sailing without
* After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Union Jack
replaced the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand as the official
flag of New Zealand.
* Initial ideas for the current flag design included the seal of New
Zealand and the words 'New Zealand' but both were found to be too difficult
to work into the design. The four stars of the Southern Cross were also
proposed but were rejected as not being exclusive to New Zealand.
* In 1867, the colonial government settled on the abbreviation 'NZ' in
red lettering with a white border in the right-hand bottom corner. This
was replaced two years later by the earlier suggestion of the Southern
Cross, comprised of four red stars with white borders. Officially, the
flag with the Southern Cross was for maritime purposes only, but it gradually
came to be used on land, even though the Union Jack remained the legal
flag of New Zealand.
* The New Zealand Ensign and Code Signals Bill was introduced in 1900
to make the Blue Ensign with the stars of the Southern Cross the legal
flag of New Zealand. An amended bill, the New Zealand Ensign Act, was
passed by the House in November 1901 and a description of the new official
flag was released in June 1902, detailing alterations to the size and
positions of the stars. - Sources: Ministry of Culture and Heritage
The New Zealand Herald
Copyright ©2010, APN Holdings NZ Limited