No compelling reason to change the NZ flag

I still don’t think we have been given a compelling argument to change the national flag.

It is not the money that bothers me. It is the timing. Why now? What’s the rush?

The flag conversation has unfolded like an excitable father bursting into the kitchen and suggesting to his family that they change their surname.

The kids reply, “Yeah that would be cool. Let’s change our name to Skywalker.” It is always fun to consider other options.

The next day Dad comes home with some official papers. “Hey kids, instead of building that third bedroom, I spent the money on this application for a new surname. What do you think?”

The kids say, “Whoa, we didn’t think you would do it straight away. Why is changing our name so important all of a sudden?”

“Great question. Let’s discuss that while I fill out the form. Do you want to be the Obamas or the Windsors? ”

“Wait, slow down. Can’t we talk about this first?”

“Don’t panic, kids, it’s not a done deal yet. You can still change your mind.”

“But you’ve already spent the money.”

“Totally worth it. We’ll get our names carved into a shiny new pole. Isn’t this neat?”

That’s the thing with this flag changing process: it is racing towards an outcome without stopping to ask why.

The Flag Consideration Project is built around the question, “what do you stand for?” We are encouraged to post our response on the website or send it back on that little freepost card we got in the mail a few weeks ago.

“What do you stand for?” It should be a noble question but most people seem to be using it as a launch pad for protest. “I stand for not wasting money, scrap this silly flag nonsense,” writes Jacinta Allen on the Standfor website, echoing many similar comments. Then there is my current subversive favourite by Joe Citizen: “I stand for getting rid of any flag. Flags bore me …the world would be a lot happier place if every country had a kite.”

If our leaders genuinely want to know whether we think the flag should change, the question they should ask is quite simple. “Do you think the New Zealand flag should change?”

But they won’t officially ask us that question until after we have voted for a new flag design.

There is an even more fundamental question that probably needs to be asked first. “Do you think New Zealand should remain in the Commonwealth?”

Grappling honestly with the Commonwealth issue would give subsequent conversations about the flag a lot more focus.

It is about asking the right questions first before charging into a design process. The current design brief appears to be “just not the old flag.” That’s no recipe for national pride.

The Flag Consideration Project is dressed up with a veneer of patriotism but it is hard not to feel a bit cynical about the way the process is rolling out.

I agree the flag should change – one day, when the time is right, when we have a better reason than just “meh, the current flag is kind of old.”

There are some good-looking flag designs out there. Will a smart new flag give us something to cheer about as a nation? I don’t know. Less haste and more substance might have made it a more sincere exercise.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 12 June 2015. Reproduced with permission.