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Free Thoughts - The Flag Referendum and Red Peak

Free Thoughts - The Flag Referendum and Red Peak

ACT Leader David Seymour

The first round of the flag referendum is almost upon us, and at last there is some genuine interest in the process. But the flag generating all the interest is not on the shortlist.

We have a problem. And time is running out.

About a fortnight ago I started to notice the social media buzz about a completely overlooked option in the original longlist, the Red Peak flag. In that longlist it didn’t make any great impression, other than being a crisp, clean design – one that at least looked like a flag.

That it did not stand out reflects one of the problems with the whole flag process. When looking at the long list we were just looking at graphics, at designs without meaning. As somebody observed, it’s like judging singers by their photographs.

In a Herald item on the Red Peak flag, “decoding red peak”, Red Peak was presented with the red triangle as a traditional Maori meeting house, the white as Mt Taranaki, the black and blue as night and day. It’s a powerful image. It reads meaning from the design.

And in my experience when people see that interpretation of the flag, their attitude to the Red Peak concept shifts entirely. It’s a “boom, I get it”, moment.

The designer of Red Peak outlines the case for his flag here, in much wider terms than just this interpretation, noting the cultural and landscape references and the range of uses which flags have:http://aotearoaflag.tumblr.com/

Even more powerfully, take a look at the Red Peak of NZ website (http://redpeakof.nz/) to see how this design can have endless meaning read into it. For example, a summer version where the red is the pohutukawa blooming in summer, the white a sandy beach; another is composed of fragments of established kiwi art; another a red Sir Ed with his mountain behind. People are uploading their interpretations. They are ingenious, there is self-deprecating Kiwi wit at play, they are at times disrespectful – it makes you proud to be a Kiwi.

People are responding to a design rooted in today’s landscape and culture, not something reflecting our colonial past.

A petition was launched for Red Peak to be added to the shortlist. In a few short weeks that petition has gathered over 42,000 supporters. At last some interest, some engagement with the idea of a new flag.

Now that we have some real interest in the flag process, what needs to change?

There are two problem areas.

First, let's accept we need some better options. At least one, and probably two of the original four options offered seem to have little support at all. Two options are just variations on the same flag – they feature familiar icons, but there is little meaning or story.

Red Peak should be amongst the options. There may be other better options as well – we need to revise that short-list.

Second, let’s acknowledge we don’t have enough time. The first referendum runs through 20 November-11 December. The second is scheduled for 3-24 March next year.

Unless we have a change of tack, it is easy to see the country wearily decide to stick with the current flag in March next year.

What should we do?

The answer is take more time. Learn from the experience overseas. In South Africa it took two unsuccessful attempts similar to our own before a flag emerged that the public adopted with enthusiasm. A similar thing happened in Canada.

Another thing: listen to the younger generations. A new flag will probably be with us for at least a century, so it is younger New Zealanders who will be living with it. There is very likely a generational divide on the question of the flag, older generations having an understandable attachment to the current flag, younger generations wanting something that speaks to today’s New Zealand.

When do the generations get together? At Christmas.

So here’s a thought. We should revise the four options and delay the first referendum until early next year. We can then debate the flag options over the Christmas break, over our backyard BBQs. We can fly our preferred flag on the beach, from the bach, whatever. But let’s have a national conversation about our options, and do it at that one time of the year when families and the generations get together.

Politically, there is a way through this.

I urge the PM and Cabinet to accept we have a problem to be fixed. We just need to shift the timing and revise the shortlist. One of the PM’s great strengths is that he usually recognises when something is going wrong, and fixes it. He listens. The PM didn’t choose the shortlist, but he can fix it.

A change in the flag is not by any means the most important issue the government faces, but if it’s worth doing its worth doing well.

The Cabinet could invite the committee to reconsider the four options. Given the groundswell those options should include the Red Peak flag. The committee should be required to consult with the design and artistic community in New Zealand, or even appoint a sub-committee with those design skills to recommend two replacement flag options, from the current four.

Or more simply, Cabinet could just replace one of the four with Red Peak.

The revised set of options could be announced later this year, in say November

Then in February or March next year we would choose a preferred flag in the first round of referenda. And a few months later that can run off against the current flag, as planned.

Yes, it may be a little inconvenient legislatively. But these matters can be dealt with quickly if needs be, as Parliament did with my Rugby World Cup Bill. There has to be a way.

Let's have another crack at it. We will live with a new flag for a long time, so let’s get it right. We can debate the options over the summer break, and see what emerges from that conversation.

For sceptics, here are some closing questions:

How enthusiastic do you feel about the four designs the Flag Panel chose?

Could any of them be a country’s flag for 100 years?

What will be the outcome if one of the current designs runs off against the incumbent, and will that be worth $26m?

Has any other flag design generated the level of enthusiasm that Red Peak has?

David Seymour
ACT Party Leader


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