The (New) New Zealand Flag

The New Zealand national flag features a defaced, Blue Ensign with the Union Jack plus 4 red stars which represents the Southern Cross. Back in the day, following the Treaty of Waitangi signing, the flag bore a St George’s Cross with the addition of another cross and 4 stars.

British ensigns were employed right after the establishment of the colony in 1840 and the flag we see today was created in 1869 and was finally used as the official flag representing the country in 1902.

There has been a long-running debate whether the flag should be changed or not. A binding referendum in terms of the change was organized and out of the over 10,000 proposals, the Flag Consideration Panel opted for 40 designs and this was reduced to 5 with regards to the first referendum.

Reasons for Changing the Flag

Advocates of the change all have their valid reasons why the national flag must be replaced with a new, contemporary design. Here are the following reasons:

  • Similarity to Australia’s national flag

NZ’s flag was always mistaken as the Australian flag because of its striking likeness. Although similar issues occur among several world flags, the prevailing similarity was further made worse by the friendly ties between both countries.

  • Current flag does not embody New Zealand’s status as a sovereign state

The country’s present flag is a spin-off of the United Kingdom’s Blue Ensign. This touches on the fact that the country is a colony of United Kingdom, which is an outdated belief.

  • Current flag acknowledges British legacy while overlooking the country’s Māori people and other indigenous groups

Several critics have spoken that the current flag was unfitting because Māori people and culture and the Treaty pf Waitangi are important facets of the country’s history. New Zealand is known as a country with a diverse assembly of people and demographics, which should not be ignored.

However, there were also vocal proponents who were opposed to the planned change. They have argued that the flag has stood the test of time and citizens of the country have felt attachment to it. Many grew up with the current flag and it was part of NZ history.

Many felt that the events which transpired in the country during its beginnings and establishment are what provides the flag its figurative and emotional worth. In addition, those opposed have claimed that the current flag is at present a direct symbol of the country. The Union Jack signifies its ties to the United Kingdom and its history as a vital branch of the British Empire while the Southern Cross on the flag characterizes its place in the South Pacific.

The efforts of the young men who were in the British Empire army, the British Commonwealth and the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who have died during the war under the current flag should not be ignored as well. The removal of the Union Jack from the flag would be total disrespect to the endeavors and sacrifices the soldiers have made.

The New Zealand Flag Referendums: 2015-2016

The first NZ flag referendum was organized by the government in 2015 and a second referendum will be held once more this year. The first referendum verified the selections of the replacement flag and the second will make a decision whether the country must agree to it. The second will be held on March 3-24, 2016.

Between November 20 and December 11, the first votes came about and Kyle Lockwood’s design of a black, white and blue, silver fern flag was included in the second referendum. However, the general public did not show much aplomb to the procedure; instead, the reception to the event was mostly disparaging.

The Flag Consideration Panel

The board was a distinct collective of respected and prominent New Zealanders bearing representative age, gender, ethnic and regional demographics. The board’s intention was to broadcast the procedure, search for flag suggestions and proposals from the community and make a decision for a final list of 4 fitting replacements for the first referendum.

A public discussion was held between the months of May and June last year.

The Legislation of the Referendums

The legislation to kick off the referendums was approved during its first Parliament hearing which took place on March 12, 2015. Labor MP Trevor Mallard showed a petition endorsed by 30,000 people requesting that a keep and change question should be added to the first referendum.

In the course of the second Parliament hearing, MP Jacinda Ardern suggested an amendment that the second referendum would only happen if the first referendum’s turnout was 50 percent, to guarantee majority rule and minimize costs if the public was indifferent to the planned change. But the suggestion was voted down and the bill was submitted on July 29, 2015.

Engaging the Public

Flag design submissions and suggestions were petitioned until July 16 and the public engagement procedure brought about over 10,000 proposals. These design submission were given to the public by means of the government’s official webpage.

The Flag Consideration Panel took a trip around various parts of New Zealand for hui and seminars and these events brought about few attendance. However, the panel remarked great online participation with beyond 850,000 website hits and over a million participation in terms of social media.

The panel have also noted that history, freedom, respect, equality and family were themes most important to the citizens of the country. But these themes were overwhelmed by the quantity of responses criticizing the flag replacement procedure.

The submitted designs favored colors such as blue, black, green, red and white and the most seen elements included in said designs were the silver fern, the koru and the Southern Cross. Primary themes centered on history, nature and the Māori culture.

The 4 Chosen Designs

Last September 1, 2015, the Flag Consideration Panel broadcasted the final 4 design proposals which will be added in the first referendum.

  • New Zealand flag design Silver Fern (Black White) by Alofi KanterSilver Fern in Black and White

The design was made by Alofi Kanter. It has a black and white color layout which includes the silver fern. The design incorporates the fern outline from the government’s Masterbrand emblem.

  • New Zealand flag design Silver Fern (Red White Blue) by Kyle LockwoodSilver Fern in Red, White and Blue

The design was made by Kyle Lockwood. The design won a poll and a newspaper flag contest in 2004. The silver fern, according to the artist, characterizes the country’s growth as a nation while the Southern Cross symbolizes the locale of the country in the South Pacific.

Meanwhile, the blue characterizes the country’s clear surroundings and the ocean while the red symbolizes heritage and the sacrifices made by its countrymen.

  • New Zealand flag design Silver Fern (Black White Blue) by Kyle LockwoodSilver Fern in Black, White and Blue

Another Kyle Lockwood design, the flag incorporates the colors black and a different blue tone. It was criticized due to aesthetic reasons.

  • New Zealand flag design Koru (Black) by Andrew FyfeKoru in Black

The design was made by Andrew Fyfe. It features the Māori koru symbol which portrays an expanding fern, which by tradition, symbolizes a “new life beginning, growth, peace and strength.” The koru in the flag was meant to characterize a cloud, a horn from a ram and a wave.

Several members of the general public made it known that they did not approve of the designs. According to them, the selected designs were unfitting, hackneyed and resembled logos, not flags. Plenty have criticized that the 4 looked alike; two designs look similar except for the colors while only one design did not feature the silver fern.

Critics also considered that the board behind the flag changing process was not capable in terms of making decisions over the designs because none of the panel members have had any credits or involvement in vexillology, the arts or graphic design. The board members have said that they have referred to designers to help them with the decision but said designer came about to be a shoe designer and not a vexillologist, or an expert who studies the historical significance and usage of flags.

New Zealand flag design Red Peak by Aaron DustinThe Red Peak Alternative

Following the vocal public disapproval of the official shortlisted designs, a social media campaign went underway on September 2, 2015 to launch the Red Peak flag design. It was a design that was loved by flag change supporters who were not into the silver fern-centric designs.

The Red Peak design was a good alternative to the shortlist and was given plenty of support by a social media movement for its addition in the list. Its inclusion was also aided by a 50,000-strong petition signed by supporters who want it as a fitting option for the referendum. David Seymour provided the petition to the Parliament on September 16, 2015.

A bill was introduced to the Parliament by Green Party MP Gareth Hughes on September 23, 2015 to add the Red Peak design as an alternative in the first referendum. However, it was opposed by New Zealand First. Prime Minister John Key verified that the legislation would be taken up again by the National Party, which means that the Red Peak design will be included as an option in the referendum.

The world will see a new New Zealand flag very soon!

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