DRIVE FOR A NEW FLAG FOR A CHANGED IDENTITY
5 June 2001
By Joanne Black
Our flag symbolises our history, our identity and our country. Any attempt to change it is bound to generate controversy, but that won't hold back MP Marie Hasler. Joanne Black reports.
FORMER Culture Minister and now National list MP Marie Hasler is to start a formal campaign to change New Zealand's flag.
Ms Hasler says the current ensign is so easily confused with Australia's that there's a story, which may be apocryphal, about previous prime ministers of both countries accidentally each picking up the wrong flag at a formal ceremony.
But it's not just the similarity to Australia's flag that's motivating a mood for change. And nor is it only on one side of the political spectrum.
As Foreign Affairs Minister, Phil Goff gets to see a lot of flags these days and thinks it's "inevitable" New Zealand's will change.
The debate over the ensign has come to life again following the release of a report by the New Zealand Tourism Strategy Group this month which said the silver fern should be considered as a replacement for the existing flag.
The current flag has a Union Jack in the top-left corner and four five-pointed red stars with white borders representing the Southern Cross on the blue-background rest of it. It has been New Zealand's official ensign for 100 years but many people feel it no longer represents them or the country. However, opinion polls on the topic have consistently shown a majority remain in favour of the status quo. Mr Goff, expressing his personal opinion, said he welcomed debate on the subject and thought it would be possible to find a flag that "better expresses New Zealand's identity".
He said he believed it was inevitable there would be a change in both the flag and anthem this century. But he cautioned that people had to be mindful of "those who served and fought under the flag and don't want change".
Indeed, the Returned Services Association, which has always championed the existing flag, has happily rejoined the fray, saying the flag was part of the country's history, and pointing out that polls did not yet support a majority push for change.
"We don't support change for change's sake just to satisfy some marketing brand," RSA chief executive Pat Herbert told The Evening Post earlier this month. "The flag is more important than that."
But Ms Hasler says the RSA does not represent the views of everyone. She thinks if young people were shown Australian and New Zealand flags and asked to choose which was New Zealand's, many would get it wrong.
While the silver fern emblem used by the NZ Rugby Football Union has been patented by the union, she still thinks a variation on that would be best for the country.
"It's a powerful and stylish image and it's a de facto flag anyway. People wave it at sports grounds and I would guess it would be acceptable to Maori and pakeha."
Ms Hasler says she objects to New Zealand having the flag of another country in the corner of its own. "We're independent, we've come of age but the flag makes us look like we're still a colony."
She says Canada had a huge debate before selecting the maple leaf, "and I doubt anyone in Canada would go back. It is an actual emblem and I think, for us, the fern is the most emblematic symbol of New Zealand."
The rugby union does not have a position on New Zealand's flag but a spokesman said the union was well aware of the symbolism of the silver fern. "We certainly know the strength of the fern. For us, there are three things recognised internationally and they are the black jersey, the haka and the silver fern."
Flagmakers on Wellington's Thorndon Quay, which makes flags, still has the 35 x 15m fern flag it made for the Tourism Board's launch when the flag was unfurled down the side of New Zealand House in London.
The company's managing director, Peter Hume, says the general comments the company would offer anyone designing a new flag would be to keep it bold and simple, "and if there's a well-recognised icon, use it".
DEBATE on New Zealand's flag certainly engenders passion. "Ms Hasler's suggestion that we adopt the black, piratical, insect repellant SPORTS LOGO in favour of our 100-year-old national ensign appals me," wrote one correspondent to a Cabinet Minister during the last Government.
The Department of Internal Affairs is about to shift its flag-waving responsibilities to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, which will look after flag issues from July 1.
Internal Affairs has on file all correspondence to Ministers that relates to flags, including various colourful suggested "improvements", many of which bear striking similarity to New Zealand First's and the old Social Credit's political party logos.
Some of the letter writers want change, some want the existing flag retained.
"A black flag is a flag of pirates," one correspondent said after Ms Hasler's promotion of the silver fern.
New Zealand's flag has been the subject of debate since 1835 when a national flag was chosen by the United Tribes of New Zealand, after they had rejected a design supplied by the Governor of New South Wales, which was considered unsuitable "because it contained no red, a colour to which the New Zealanders are particularly partial". That flag, which featured a red St George cross and four white stars, was flown until the Union Jack replaced it in 1840 when New Zealand became a British colony.
The current flag evolved in 1869 and became the official ensign in 1901.
The Evening Post
Copyright 2001 Wellington Newspapers Limited