Unnecessary flag change referendum just a political distraction

20:49, Mar 16 2014

So it's official. I don't mean the September 20 election, I mean the referendum on changing the flag. Yes, for some unknown reason Prime Minister John Key has decided the nation needs to have a debate over its flag; but I'm just not sure he's right.

I know the referendum is being held after the next election, so as not to be a distraction from the issues that really matter. But surely that's all it will end up being whenever we have the debate?

Most reasonable, level-headed New Zealanders would likely agree that things like health, education, crime and welfare are more worthy pursuits for political debate.

In fact, spending taxpayer money on a superficial marketing ploy that won't actually make a tangible difference to the lives of our citizens seems an unethical waste.

But it goes further than that. You see, any change in our national symbol should surely be linked to some significant change in our country, so that at least the change has some significance. As it stands, the only real reason we have for changing the flag is that we kinda feel like it.

Our children would ask us about the change and our reply would be: "Oh yeah, um, it just seemed like a good idea."


There would be no meaningful answer to give, and so no real meaning to the new flag other than the fact some of us thought it looked cooler. That defeats the purpose of a flag.

Which raises another point. The current flag is the flag under which the vast majority of us were born; it is the flag under which those who built our country in days gone by died. It is the flag under which our athletes have won gold and glory, it is the flag under which our soldiers still fight and even die. In other words, the current flag is imbued with the meaning of thousands of lives - past and present - and to scrap it "just ‘cos" is to make a mockery of that.

Like it or not, it has been filled with meaning by the passing of the generations, and that past is precisely what gives it relevance today. After all, that past makes us who we are today. You don't just throw away your heritage on a whim. Any change in a flag (which I would admittedly disagree with anyway) ought to be driven by a vast majority of the population and based on a tangible change in our nation. It ought to be based on a reason as urgent and important as healthcare, or personal debt, or crime rates or the education of our children, so that we can justify talking about it.

Currently, the debate is being driven by a politician looking for a distraction, and a few media outlets looking for an easy story with "legs" enough to fill a few pages over the coming months.

That just doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to good reasons for a debate over changing our flag.