Now that the dust has settled on the Scottish referendum, it is time to turn our attention to the next big referendum to be held in the Commonwealth: that of the future of the New Zealand flag. Shortly after his re-election as Prime Minister, John Key indicated that a referendum on the flag could be held as soon as 2015.
Mr. Key has labeled the the current New Zealand blue ensign a relic of the nation’s colonial past, and wants a design that is uniquely New Zealand, “Whether it’s stitched on a Kiwi traveller’s backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations or standing in a Wellington southerly on top of the Beehive every working day.” Others disagreed, pointing out the flag’s symbolism: the blue field, which symbolises the ocean that surrounds the island realm, and the Union flag, which symbolises its lasting connection to the Commonwealth.
New Zealand has no shortage of alternatives. Several flag designs have been proposed, most often featuring the “silver fern”, New Zealand’s botanical symbol, or the red Southern Cross from the current blue ensign. Nor is such a move without precedent; of the 15 Commonwealth realms excluding the United Kingdom, only Australia, New Zealand, and Tuvalu currently have an ensign as their flag. (The ensign is much more common among territories and subnational units; six Australian states, fourteen British Overseas Territories, two Canadian provinces, and both New Zealand territories fly ensigns as their official flags.)
Where, then, does this leave the United Commonwealth Society? It is perhaps not surprising that many of our members from New Zealand have expressed a desire to retain the current flag, as do several members from other realms. Does this mean that the Society’s official position – if, indeed, we should have one – should be the same?
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David J Haisell
10 October 2014