Editorial: Why we Kiwis are such a sad and cynical bunch when given the chance of a lifetime
OPINION: We Kiwis just aren't yet mature enough to choose a flag that represents us among the grown-ups on the world stage.
It was the end of 1993. I was a raw and idealistic university student, short on life experience but long on trenchant opinions.
You may laugh, but my friends and I were still riding a euphoric wave after playing our small parts in that year's successful campaign to replace New Zealand's broken first-past-the-post electoral system with MMP.
We gathered over a few beers at the Victoria University student union. We asked, what next?
And so was born the most recent incarnation of the Republican Movement of New Zealand, which campaigned publicly for a New Zealand head of state and sometimes, as the mood took us, a change of flag.
Our concern then was that however widespread New Zealanders' dissatisfaction might be with the colonial relic Union Jack in the top-left corner of our flag, meaningful to only a minority of today's citizens, the chances of uniting most of the population behind any alternative was just about nil.
The late Lloyd Morrison, businessman and philanthropist, subsequently took a good swing at building that consensus with his campaign for a silver fern flag. He failed.
The backers of Red Peak tried last year. They, too, failed.
John Key has attempted to unify us behind the blue, white and black fern. He, too, has failed.
The only chance of the flag changing at this month's referendum is if the supporters of the existing Union Jack-emblazoned flag get befuddled and can't work out how to mail back their postal votes. That ain't going to happen.
Even some of the most staunch advocates of change, like Red Peaker and ACT MP David Seymour, are voting to keep the old flag. That's right, the flag that (contrary to popular myth) we didn't fight under, isn't emblazoned on our war graves, and wasn't raised by Sir Edmund Hillary atop Mt Everest.
I had a beer with Seymour on Friday night, and he told me ruefully that despite his certainty that the old flag is irrelevant to New Zealand, he couldn't bring himself to vote for the muddled Kyle Lockwood fern flag. And so, on Friday, he mailed back his voting papers with a tick next to the Union Jack.
How is it that this diverse, 21st century nation is going to keep a flag that, strung from the rafters at Perth Arena on Sunday night as the Breakers meet the Wildcats in Game 3 of the Australian NBL grand final series, will be almost indistinguishable from the Aussie one?
The sad truth is that we Kiwis are behaving like petulant children. For instance, Labour supporters – previously the most likely to call for a change – have swung in behind the old flag through (let's be honest) petty political loathing of John Key. That's the only possible explanation for their abrupt about-turn when Key took leadership of the flag campaign.
Like toddlers, we've all been easily distracted by shiny but irrelevant trinkets, like the $26 million cost of the flag commission and referendums, or the question of how many designers it takes to change a flag.
And worst of all, we are showing a childlike inability to compromise.
You know what? You're never going to get a new flag that keeps all the people happy all the time. But if we all agree that we don't like the existing one, let's do our best to agree on something better. That's what the first flag referendum was for.
Now it's 2016 and time to vote in the final referendum of the debate. I'm still a little bit idealistic and long on robust opinions ... and my opinion now is that we Kiwis just aren't yet mature enough as a nation to choose a flag of our own that represents us among the grown-ups on the world stage.
Go on, prove me wrong.
- Sunday Star Times