A short history of New Zealand's $26 million flag debate video

New Zealand voted nearly 57 per cent in favour of the existing flag.
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New Zealand voted nearly 57 per cent in favour of the existing flag.

From a question outside a plastics factory to a $26 million referendum, this is the story of the New Zealand flag debate. 

CHAPTER ONE: AN ORDINARY DAY, A THROW AWAY QUESTION

It's January 29, 2014.

Prime Minister John Key and a contingent of journalists are at the opening of a some kind of new clean, green plastics plant in Lower Hutt.

It's interesting, but it's not really a stunner of a story.

So the press gather around the prime minister, shooting out questions to elicit a response worthy of a extra write-up or a nightly news clip.

John Key sparked the debate by asking a throwaway question in January 2014.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

John Key sparked the debate by asking a throwaway question in January 2014.

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As Laura McQuillan, a Stuff reporter in attendance that day, remembers it, Maori TV's Maiki Sherman asked Key whether a prison could fly a Maori flag on Waitangi Day.

Key said he thought the current rules around flag-flying were fine.

Then TVNZ's political editor Corin Dann presses further. Key had previously expressed an interest in changing the official flag, Dann said. Did our political leader still feel that way?

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Key answers in the affirmative, he wants a change. He wants a referendum. 

This ground had been tread before. Key has always advocated for change. 

The current design flies as the flag of New Zealand.

The current design flies as the flag of New Zealand.

But this feels different.

And it is.

CHAPTER TWO: THE REFERENDUM IS ANNOUNCED

From here on out there is nothing but momentum.

Different political leaders pitch in their two cents about Key's comments. Columns are written. And Key keeps banging on about changing the flag.

In March, two months after the plastics plant visit, he delivers a speech at Victoria University, outlining his argument for a flag change, proposing to form a cross-party group to design a fair process and a steering group to ensure proper public engagement.

John Key announces plans for a referendum at Victoria University in March 2014.
ROBERT KITCHEN

John Key announces plans for a referendum at Victoria University in March 2014.

"We want a design that says 'New Zealand,'" he says, "whether it's stitched on a Kiwi traveller's backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations, or standing in a Wellington southerly on top of the Beehive every working day."

Key commits to getting a referendum off the ground, should he be reelected in September.

Six months later, with another victory under his belt, that's exactly what he does.

Within days of his reelection, he confirms a referendum will take place before 2017.

By October, a plan has been made.  

Two referendums, the first to choose an alternate design and second to pit it against the current flag, are announced, as is their $26 million price tag.

The $26 million allocated to the referendum has left many people unhappy.
XTOCK

The $26 million allocated to the referendum has left many people unhappy.

The cost will become one of the most contentious talking points of the whole debate.

The cross-party group is formed, then a Flag Consideration Panel is announced in February of this year, naming a range of respected New Zealanders like Beatrice Faumuina, Rod Drury and Julie Christie to make the hard calls on which flags would make it to the final round.  

CHAPTER THREE: LASER KIWI, KIWOSSUM AND OTHER FAN FAVOURITES

 

Here comes the fun part - the public submissions process.

Kiwis across the country work on designs that range in scale from silly to serious, and pitched them to the committee. Over a two month window, 10,292 designs are submitted by the public.

When the submissions period ends in July, the images go up in a public gallery on the flag referendum website, introducing the country to the weird and wonderful flag alternatives that will push our little flag debate onto the international stage.

Fire the Lazar by James Gray of Auckland, also known as Laser Kiwi, found a following.
JAMES GRAY

Fire the Lazar by James Gray of Auckland, also known as Laser Kiwi, found a following.

James Gray's now infamous Fire the Lazar (aka Laser Kiwi), Logan Wu's bizarre Gains featuring flying Kiwis, rainbow colours and pyramids, Jesse Gibb's mashing of Kiwi icons in Sheep and Hokey Pokey, and Hamish Duncanson's glorious hybrid Kiwossum make their way into stories run by high profile media outlets like The Guardian, Vice and even John Oliver's Last Week Tonight

While the focus is on these and other crazy, quirky and outright unexplainable concepts, the Panel gets down to the gritty business of choosing a long list.

In August, the list of 10,292 alternates becomes 40, with most fan favourites out of contention.

Satirist John Oliver has reviewed the final 40 flag options on his weekly show and concluded they were "pretty boring".

Interest raises a little, with the public sharing the list and speculating which will make it to the final round. But it isn't until the long list is announced that things get interesting.

CHAPTER FOUR: INTEREST PEAKS, RED PEAK RISES 

In September, the final cull. 40 becomes four.

Kyle Lockwood's two nods for his silver fern designs incorporating the old the with new, Alofi Kanter's Black and White fern, and Andrew Fyfe's Koru - dubbed Hypnoflag on social media - are announced as the pool from which an alternative option was to come from.

And sure, no one seems particularly wowed by the four.

But nobody could have predicted what was to come next.

The Red Peak flag, designed by Aaron Dustin, found a following on social media.
SUPPLIED

The Red Peak flag, designed by Aaron Dustin, found a following on social media.

A public uprising, a social media campaign of unparalleled performance and ferocity, sees one of the worst polling long list options become a legitimate new flag contender. Such is the rise of Red Peak.

Aaron Dustin's design, officially called First To The Light, finds support with a vocal, socially active group who drum up wide spread outrage at its exclusion. 

It's a kerfuffle in Parliament. There's calls to add the flag to the ballot. At first Key refuses to discuss the possibility. Then he softens. Then he squabbles with other party leaders. 

Stuff.co.nz

People across New Zealand let us know what they think about the Red Peak flag.

Andrew Little calls Key "arrogant". Key says Little refuses to cooperate. Bill English criticises everyone.

There's so many strategic moves and a great amount of political pandering that the public seem exhausted by it all. 

But there are moments of levity which bring sweet relief in the midst of the incessant arguing. 

NZN VIDEO/Cherry White

ACT Leader David Seymour made a gaffe when answering a question about whether his silver fern pin would be replaced with a red peak flag......

Take for instance David Seymour's gaffe, where he utters the words "French love the coq," in relation to a question about the silver fern, then proceeds to giggle after realising his unintentional double entendre.

After weeks of debate about Red Peak, Greens MP Gareth Hughes submits a Referendum Amendment Bill to Parliament to see it added to the ballot.

Bowing to public pressure, the bill finds backing and Red Peak becomes the official fifth option on the ballot, to the taxpayer tune of $380,000.

DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington City council raises the five flag option for public display

CHAPTER FIVE: WE VOTED, BUT NOT FOR THE LAST TIME

More than 1,500,000 Kiwis, just shy of 50 per cent of the electoral roll, returned their papers in the first referendum in December.

The country voted for Kyle Lockwood's black, white and blue Silver Fern design to go head-to-head with our current flag. But the choice was far from clear-cut.

Fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters returned their papers in the first referendum.
JOHN BOYNTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters returned their papers in the first referendum.

In a quirk of the voting system Lockwood's black version was not actually the most popular first choice.

Instead the former Wellington designer's red Silver Fern won that honour, with 580,241 first-rank votes as opposed to the black version's 559,587.

The complexities of the preferential voting system then kicked in to make the black Silver Fern the winner by a hair: with 50.58 per cent of the vote against 49.42 per cent for its sister design.

The first referendum had a price tag of more than $10 million.
Supplied

The first referendum had a price tag of more than $10 million.

The first referendum cost taxpayers $10,330,000.

CHAPTER SIX: DECISION TIME

After four months to weigh up the winner of the first referendum and New Zealand's existing flag, the decision came down to Thursday night.

Stuff.co.nz

The vote is in and we have gone with the New Zealand flag, which has been the official New Zealand emblem since 1902.

And most New Zealanders voted to retain the current flag

More than 2 million people voted in the year-long multimillion dollar flag referendum, with more than 1.2 million votes in favour of retaining the current design, which has been the official New Zealand emblem since 1902.

A majority of voters rejected the Kyle Lockwood-designed blue and black Silver Fern over the current Union Jack and Southern Cross combination.

So, the current flag is here to stay for the time being.

Here's what the internet thought of the news.

 - Stuff

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