A flag for New Zealand


People are getting themselves worked up into near frenzy over the four alternative flag designs released yesterday. But they really shouldn’t. Each of these designs says something very special about New Zealand and its place in the world.

They speak of a country finding its own voice, as confused and incoherent as that voice may be. More importantly, they show that New Zealand has finally thrown off its colonial shackles. Had we remained closely bound to Mother England, someone from London would surely have been sent out by now to put an end to this insanity.

All New Zealanders should be proud of our flag, regardless of the winning design. We are a nation emerging from the shadow of a larger neighbour with an almost identical national symbol; a country prepared to stand up to the rest of the world and say “it may be a fucking terrible flag, but it’s our fucking terrible flag!”

It takes immense bravery to flout all the basic rules of good design, not to mention common sense, in such a public way. But our expert panel of amateurs has managed this feat admirably.

A nation’s flag is its most visible symbol, and one that does not often change. So we have to get it right. If we choose one of these four flag designs, we may be stuck with it for generations to come. So it is fitting that the Flag Consideration Panel has given such weight to the views of our younger people. Why else would they have chosen designs that look like the product of a twelve-year-old let loose on clipart?

The government could have appointed a designer to the Flag Consideration Panel. That panel could have consulted with designers when making their final choices, to ensure the four shortlisted flags followed good design principles. They could have even followed their own advice. But none of these things happened. Instead, this brave collection of reality TV show producers, law professors, ad agency execs, former All Blacks, and business leaders just got on with the job at hand, not deterred by their lack of expertise. The entire process has been a triumph for the Kiwi can-do number-8-wire attitude.

New Zealand prides itself on punching above its own weight, and if we choose one of these four flags we’ll be maintaining that long and noble tradition. Because when I look at each of these four designs I feel as my eyes have just been assaulted.

And what better legacy than a new flag for a Prime Minister who claims to be “aspirational for New Zealand” (small “a”)? John Key is a master at knowing what the public want here, now, today. Polling drives his every waking moment, and probably most of his dreams, that is, when he is not fantasising about locking the All Blacks scrum. Key is beloved of the people, but we may genuinely struggle in ten years time to remember why we liked this populist driven by short-term expediency so much. A Prime Minister so determined to disregard major and growing problems (climate change, a housing crisis, the global refugee crisis, the dairy meltdown, etc. etc.) probably deserves to be remembered for a flag we would all like to forget.

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