Four week’s into the formal process for the New Zealand public to consider the national flag, the Flag Consideration Panel announced today the six most often asked questions from the public.
Flag Consideration Panel chair, Professor John Burrows, said this process was naturally drawing passionate responses as could be expected in this type of consideration process.
“The Panel’s mandate is very clear. Our role is to facilitate discussion and recommend to the Government four alternatives that will be voted on in the first referendum.
We have received nearly 3,000 flag designs and the South Island section of the road show ended last night with a workshop in Nelson. Approximately 2,300 have personally visited by way of workshops and information stands in busy public locations so far and there has been an extremely high number of people, over 510,000, who have participated online,” said Professor Burrows.
Professor Burrows noted those who like the current flag, those who want to see an ‘updated’ version (for example “put a kiwi, fern or the words 'NZ' on it”), as well as those who may like to consider a different design.
“This is the first time in history the public has had the opportunity to discuss options and have a say in the future of the New Zealand flag. Naturally, there are a number of questions that have been raised, and our role is to help answer these,” said Professor Burrows.
Question 1: Why don’t they ask us if we even want to change the flag first? Or, save money by putting it with an election?
“The Government has made that decision. It means you know what the alternative design is when you vote whether or not you want the flag to change. When referendums have been added to elections, it has cost at least as much as holding a separate postal referendum,” said Professor Burrows.
Question 2: Isn’t thinking about alternative flags really disrespectful to our soldiers?
Retired lieutenant general, Rhys Jones, who is the former chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, said he was respectful of this point of view and noted the current flag is our third flag which was adopted in 1902. Since then, some New Zealanders have questioned whether it should be replaced.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate time to consider such an important symbol of our nation as we commemorate Kiwis defending our freedoms and principles. Many people consider that the tragedy at Gallipoli started us thinking about what makes New Zealanders unique, and a country in our own right,” said Mr Jones.
Question 3: Why doesn’t the Government just decide to change the flag?
“By law, the flag could be changed by a majority of Parliament. But, the Government has decided any decision on the flag should be made by all New Zealanders. Whether the flag changes or not is up to eligible voters, and both referendums are binding, so the decision is final,” said Professor Burrows.
Question 4: What does this mean for our membership of the Commonwealth?
Flag historian Malcolm Mulholland said many people wondered if this process meant New Zealand was “ditching” the Commonwealth to become an independent nation.
“Nothing about our constitution would change. If the flag changed we will still be part of the Commonwealth. Other countries within the Commonwealth have changed their flag over time; in fact we are one of five remaining independent countries who still have the Union Jack on our flag. It used to be 49.
A new flag will be adopted only if a majority of voters in the flag referendum vote in favour of a new flag. The change of flag will not affect the status of New Zealand as a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of New Zealand as our Head of State,” reiterated Mr Mulholland.
Question 5: Will the flag definitely change?
Flag Consideration Panel member, Peter Chin, former Mayor of Dunedin said after this process, the flag may in fact stay the same.
“There is no presumption of change in this process. It depends entirely on how Kiwis vote in the second referendum next year. Even if it did change, people can still fly any flag they like. Legally, only government would have to fly the official flag on legislated days,” said Mr Chin.
Question 6: Why is the Panel asking us what we stand for?
Professor Burrows reiterated that a flag should represent a nation’s values.
“We want to know what Kiwis feel is special about New Zealand so we can make sure those values are represented. We’ll use these as we consider four alternative flags for eligible voters to rank in the first referendum this year,” said Professor Burrows.
Professor Burrows reminded people they can visit the online forum www.standfor.co.nz or learn more from the road show team at information stands across the country. The full schedule and resource materials are online at www.flag.govt.nz, including a community resource kit that mirrors the workshop meetings so anyone can host their own discussion.
Updated on 23rd July 2015