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The Press- News column Sep 30

Why the NZ flag referendum is money-sucking malarkey.

Greetings from New York. With the United Nations General Assembly wrapping up, the city is flamboyantly festooned in the flags of the world, flapping in the warm September breeze. How sweet to spot the New Zealand ensign, proudly aflutter on a lofty pole, overlooking the East River. Back home , our triumphant Prime Minister has spent the first week post-election, surprisingly  kite-flying his money-sucking flag referendum as a defining third term issue. John Key freely concedes, the flag debate is a personal hobby horse. He’s a fernophile. And maybe  he considers this a legacy project to sate the ego. But this change-the-flag fixation is malarkey and glaringly at odds with his rightful aversion to republicanism. John Key’s central argument is that the current national flag is “ a colonial relic.” Extrapolate out his selective, disingenuous  and flimsy line of attack, and you’d have not just our flag and constitutional monarchy in the dumpster, but the knighthoods he reinstated, the national anthem, Treaty of Waitangi, statutory holiday schedule, overseas working holiday entitlements – in fact our nation’s very name, all condemned to the colonial graveyard.  These “relics” are of course living symbols of our collective inheritance, our enduring national legacy.  Truth be told, John Key’s preferred replacement, could also be derided as a “colonial relic”, given the Silver Fern was first used on military insignia during the Boer War. The Prime Minister is an effective torch-bearer for patriotism, but the Silver Fern is not a flag, it’s an emblem, steeped in sporting overtones. Is it not a little gratuitous to re-fabricate your flag as a blunt marketing tool? Are we really that insecure as a nation? This month, the Star Spangled Banner marked its 200th birthday. Can you imagine Americans giving it the flick, for something more fashionable? Why should our 112 year old flag, which speaks to our nation’s foundation and guiding lights, be biffed for a blatant sports symbol, backed in black? Aside from jolly rogering and fly-zapping, the world’s reference point to a black flag, is death.  The fear and loathing ensign of ISIS, Al Qaeda and its hate-fuelled fanatics. And the Jihadist flag, with its steely white Arabic script on a black backing, would bear a most unfortunate likeness, on a flagpole, to a limply fluttering Silver Fern.  Of course the change brigade also argue our flag is too similar to Australia’s. This would have to be the ultimate idiot-identification test. Would you entrust your flagpole to someone who can’t decipher a cluster of four muted reds from six steely whites?

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, as first published in The Press. September 30.

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