Home > The Body Politic > Flag thoughts and settling dust – Dedicated to our esteemed Dear Leader and Audrey Young

Flag thoughts and settling dust – Dedicated to our esteemed Dear Leader and Audrey Young



Due to personal circumstances (and a tussle with a ‘bug’ that seemed to take a fancy to my body), this blogpost is a couple of weeks late. Therefore, it is worth more as a “retrospective” than anything else. Apologies for the delay.

PS: The bug lost.


Flag thoughts and settling dust – Dedicated to our esteemed Dear Leader and Audrey Young




The People’s Verdict

The verdict is in; the people have spoken; ‘Old Blue‘ has been retained as our current flag.

By now most will be aware of the voting results;


second flag referendum results


Just over 1.2 million  voters cast their ballot to retain the existing flag. That is 68,502 votes more than National party vote share (1,131,501) in the last election. If ‘Old Blue‘ was a political party, it could probably govern in it’s own right, without the second-rate hangers-on that National relies on to remain in power.

So, 1,200,003 people were not inclined to change our flag. There was no one particular reason – there were several;

  • War veterans fought, and many perished, under that flag (or, at least, commemorate ANZAC Day under it)
  • There was no popular movement for change – the two referenda were handed down from On High, and foisted upon the public
  • Some did not like the process of deciding the candidate-designs in both referenda
  • Some did not like the fact that three out of four (later, with the addition on Red Peak, five) options were eerily similar, bearing the silver fern
  • Some thought that $26 million could be better spent on health, education, housing, increasing Pharmac’s budget to buy new cancer medicines, and other more worthwhile and pressing causes
  • Some viewed it as a deliberate ploy by National to distract public attention from growing social and economic problems confronting us
  • Some did not like the Kyle Lockwood design
  • Some viewed the government’s decision to reinstate Knighthoods as contradictory to changing our flag
  • Some remembered Key’s rejection and denigration of the 2012 anti-asset sale referendum and wondered why they should support our esteemed Dear Leader’s initiative, when he so casually derided a popular, grass-roots movement to voice opposition to asset sales
  • A fair few voted against change as they saw it as a de facto referendum on John Key’s government (much like the September 1997 Compulsory Retirement Savings Scheme referenda, which many treated as a vote of No Confidence in the National-NZ First Coalition government at the time)
  • Some were not convinced of the need for change
  • Others viewed the alternatives as a “branding” exercise rather than advancing our national identity
  • And a fair few simply liked the current  ‘Old Blue‘, full stop.


The high cost of the referendum rankled with many - especially as early childhood education budget cuts and Pharmac's inability to fund new cancer drugs was not lost on many people.

The high cost of the referendum rankled with many – especially as early childhood education budget cuts and Pharmac’s inability to fund new cancer drugs, was not lost on many people.


The only real surprise was that the numbers voting to retain the current flag was only 56.6%. Previous public opinion polling had indicated that between 61%  and 65% opposed change. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, a UMR Poll showed 59% opting to support the status quo.

A matter of National identity

One of the most trenchant criticisms of the flag referendum process is the contradiction of Key’s government returning New Zealand to British Knighthoods.

Discussion of wider aspects of nationhood such as becoming a republic and electing our own Head of State were also muted.

On 29 October, 2014, Key maintained the aspirations of a new flag expressing our own modern,  independent identity;

“Our flag is the most important symbol of our national identity and I believe that this is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation.”

In another example of Key’s multiplicity of opinions, his comments were contradicted two years later on 2 April this year when he uttered this eyebrow-raising assertion;

“We are at the core … a British colony and I thought there was an argument that New Zealanders could be treated in a way which reflected that.”

So much for “independent national identity”.


Key’s restrained/rehearsed  response

On TV3’s The Nation, on 26 March, Lisa Owen interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key. His face was studiously calm and seemingly unperturbed by what was obviously a rejection of his beloved silver fern flag reform. Key’s tax-payer funded media minders had earned their salaries and trained him well.

Key’s composure was perhaps a little too perfect;


The Nation - interview John Key - flag referendum - 26 march 2016


During the interview, Key blamed voters for voting along “party lines”;

@ 1.22

“Well, that was because what we saw was some really big numbers that looked like they were along party lines. Seventy percent of Labour voters for instance in the polling indicated they would vote for the current New Zealand flag when it was Labour policy to change the flag via a referendum.”

Astoundingly, Key cheekily tried to re-write recent history by denying any favouritism in the flag debate;

@ 3.18

“Well, in the end, you gotta remember I didn’t back the horse. What I did was open up a process which allowed ten and a half thousand to put in a submission…”

Oh, of course, not Dear Leader. You had no preference at all, right? These images below – they are images of  your  evil duplicate, from a Parallel Universe,  right?


john key-with-flag




It was noticeable that Key had no lapel pin on his jacket-breast in the interview with Lisa Owen (nor on TVNZ’s Q+A, the following Sunday). Even after the people had spoken in a referendum promoted by him and his government, he could not bring himself to wear the mandated flag of our nation.

It will be interesting to see what pin he will be wearing in future, if any. After all, as Key himself pointed out;

@ 2.03

“..and actually now, as a country, let’s get behind our flag.”

Indeed, Dear Leader; let’s get behind our flag. And you can start by wearing it on your lapel.


Audrey Young’s response

In examples of childish foot-stomping, petulance, Audrey Young’s piece on 25 March in the NZ Herald was hard to beat;

“It is not even a failure to persuade because Key did not campaign heavily for change.

If anything, he failed to campaign strongly enough.

He always answered questions about changing the flag but he did not lead a campaign to change it in the way the late Lloyd Morrison might have done.”

Young’s assertion that “Key did not campaign heavily for change” beggars belief. As the two images above show – along with other evidence easily available on the ‘net – Key was one of the prime movers to replace the current flag.

Young would have to have been living in a snow-cave in Antarctica; in a bathysphere at the bottom of the Marianas Trench; or a moonbase on the Dark Side of the Moon, not to have noticed Key’s cheerleading for the Kyle Lockwood flag.

“He wrongly counted on the Greens and Labour actually following their own policy and embracing the referendum rather than politicizing the process.”

Which illustrates Young’s lack of knowledge on the referendum voting patterns (as well as over-looking the fact the entire process had been politicised when Key took a personal position on which flag he  supported).

In fact, many of the electorates which voted to retain the current flag are held by National MPs;

Auckland Central (56.5% current flag, 43.2% alternative flag)

Botany (51.5%, 48.3%)

Christchurch Central (56.4%, 43.4%)

Coromandel (54.5%, 45.3%)

East Coast (57.5%, 42.3%)

Hamilton East (51.9%, 47.9%)

Hamilton West (55.2%, 44.6%)

Hunua (53.4%, 46.5%)

Invercargill (60.0%, 39.9%)

Kaikōura (53.0%, 46.8%)

Maungakiekie (59.0%, 40.8%)

Nelson (51.9%, 47.8%)

New Plymouth (50.7%, 49.1%)

North Shore (50.4%, 49.4%)

Northcote (56.1%, 43.6%)

Ōtaki (57.4%, 42.4%)

Pakuranga (53.2%, 46.7%)

Papakura (59.0%, 40.9%)

Rangitata (51.6%, 48.2%)

Rangitῑkei (56.0%, 43.9%)

Rodney (52.4%, 47.3%)

Rotorua (56.2%, 43.6%)

Taupō (53.0%, 46.8%)

Tauranga (50.1%, 49.7%)

Tukituki (56.5%, 43.3%)

Upper Harbour (55.8%, 44.0%)

Waikato (52.2%, 47.6%)

Waimakariri (51.0%, 48.9%)

Wairarapa (56.8%, 43.0%)

Waitaki (50.4%, 49.4%)

Whanganui (59% – 40.8%)

Whangarei (58.5%, 41.3%)

Even our esteemed Dear Leader’s own electorate turned against him;

Helensville (56.6%, 43.3%)

In the last election, National scored 58.39% of the Party Vote and 65.17% Electorate Vote.

So For Audrey Young to whine about Labour and the Greens not towing the official Government Party Line on this issue is childish finger-pointing and blame-gaming. Perhaps she should take it up with National’s own supporters.

After all, in National-held Invercargill, the vote was a staggering 60% to retain ‘Old Blue’. I doubt if that far-south electorate is a secret  Labour and Green stronghold and hotbed of left-wing,  anti-government  activity.

And where did Key’s support go in his own electorate?

Audrey Young’s whinging continued;

“To those who didn’t like the design of the silver fern alternative, it was the public’s choice.

To those who didn’t like any of the five finalists in the first referendum, they were the Flag Consideration’s Panel’s Choice.

To those who wanted Red Peak among the finalists, Key and the Green Party got it added and shut them up.

To those in Labour who say a new flag should not have been considered until New Zealand becomes a republic, he can say “hypocrite.”

That’s not they were saying in 2014 when Trevor Mallard released its policy saying “We believe that the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public.”

To those who did not want a referendum at all, did they want a choose imposed on them?

To those who thought it was a waste of money, it is not what they were saying in 2013 on the referendum for state asset sales for which the Government had received a clear mandate at the 2011 election.

To those say who say people should have been asked first if they wanted change, it was a question biased towards no change.”

It seems fairly obvious where Young stands on the flag referendum. She brooks no dissent; no contrary opinion; and certainly does not respect the will of the people.

For example, her ridiculous notion that “to those who didn’t like the design of the silver fern alternative, it was the public’s choice” – is arrant rubbish. The Kyle Lockwood option on the ballot paper was one of four  decided by the Flag Selection committee.

Of the four, three had the silver fern and could be considered nearly identical. (The fourth option – Andrew Fyfe’s Koru flag design – was so abysmal as to be a sure bet to be relegated to last position in voting preferences. No personal offense intended Mr Fyfe.)

Of the four options, a silver fern was bound to win. The public had few real choices in the matter.

Audrey Young left out one “To Those“, which I will offer in the form of one of her own statements, slightly amended;

To those who fume at the referendum result, get over it!

Key got his referendum. He simply did not get the result he wanted. Audrey Young insults voters with her whiney little tanty.

This time – unlike the referendum on State Assets which he thumbed his nose at – he cannot ignore the Will of the People. Not unless he wants to lose the 2017 election, and probably the next one or two after that.


Other matters to consider: 1 – Similarity

Perhaps the Number One argument in favour of changing our flag was “Old Blues” similarity to Australia’s flag;




Which is not a unique situation, as Hungary and Italy also have similar flags;





As do France and Russia


French Russian flags


And try remembering which is which when it comes to Indonesia and Poland!


Polish Indonesian flags


Changing a flag because it bears a similarity to another nation’s emblem does not – on the face of it – seem a necessity when so many others are striking in their sameness.

Quite the contrary, if any two nations on the face of this  little planet have a reason to share a similar design – it is Australia and New Zealand.

After all, we have a similar pattern of colonisation;  shared history, language, culture, values, economy, and we laud our ANZAC tradition. To an outsider, there is little appreciable difference between Australians and New Zealanders (except we don’t have an accent).

Why shouldn’t our flags be similar as well?


Other matters to consider: 2 – Stubborness

By now, our elected representatives should know that New Zealanders don’t like being told what to do. Our stubborn streak of “sticking it to the man” was epitomised in that 1981 cult classic, “Goodbye Pork Pie“. The entire movie (in case the title wasn’t sufficient to give it away) was a middle finger raised at the increasingly autocratic National government of the day. (What is it about National governments that tend toward authoritarianism?)

The flag referendum, unlike it’s more successful predecessor, the firefighters’ referendum in 1995, and the anti-asset sales referendum in 2012, was not a grass-roots movement by the people.

It was handed down, from on-high, and by golly the government would demand that we vote on this matter.

People did not want the referendum,  and the cost – at a time of cuts to many social services and lack of funding for new anti-cancer drugs – rankled with many.

But vote we did. Over two million New Zealanders.

Not because we wanted to.

But so that a flag change would not be carried by a minority who were either Key-sycophants, or disliked our current flag sufficiently to vote for change, regardless of dirty political manipulations at play.

So, vote we did.

And we sent a clear message to the National government as clearly as a certain little yellow mini did, thirtyfive years ago. The message, in case anyone missed it: stop fart-arsing around!

Bolshie lot, aren’t we?


Other matters to consider: 3 – Real Change

If New Zealand is going to embrace  change and adopt a new flag, it must actually mean something. It must mean a new start to building our own nationhood.

Otherwise, any flag-change – without meaningful change to back it – simply becomes a re-branding exercise. Which is precisely what our esteemed Dear Leader seems to have had in mind; a re-brand rather than a republic.

It was no coincidence that Key’s own preference was for the Silver Fern – a commercialised brand symbol on everything from the All Blacks to Air New Zealand.

This was a re-branding exercise for NZ Inc, and  many (if not most) people saw through it.  John Key’s seeming lack of understanding the meaning of  real nation-building (see: “A matter of National identity” above) doomed his pet project from the start.

John Key is not the right person to effect this kind of sea-change in our country’s destiny. He never was.


Other matters to consider: 4 – Where were Maori, our Treaty partners?

During this entire exercise, very little – if any – inclusion of Maori culture made it to the final five designs. It is like they never existed.

And yet, there were many offerings that the Flag Selection panel could have chosen from;


possible maori flag designs


Instead, the final offerings to the public were Pakeha notions of flag-design.

Perhaps it explains why the Maori electorates voted to retain ‘Old Blue‘. For them, it would be “change” that was no change at all. Sticking with the current flag, albeit with elements of musket-enforced British colonialism, was little different to alternatives on offer.

In this matter, the Flag Consideration panel was an abject failure, tainted with mono-culturalism.


Key “get’s Behind our flag” – by ignoring it!

Remember how our esteemed Dear Leader said on TV3’s The Nation, on 26 March,

“…and actually now, as a country, let’s get behind our flag.”

This is how he backed up his words on 5 April, during a press meeting;


Helen Clark 'The pragmatism and focus I have are what the UN needs right now' - John Key


What is on his lapel? Nothing.

That is how Key “gets behind our flag”.


Final Word

The final word on this saga has to go to out-going Governor-General, Jerry Mateparae, who, on 28 March opined on Radio NZ;

“Sometimes we’ve got distracted, and that’s the nature of politics, and that’s also possibly the nature of such an important emblem of who we are – this represents us…”

(Audio link)

Rich irony indeed; the Establishment’s figurehead complains that people were distracted from a referendum that many considered a distraction in the first place.







Electoral Commission: Second Referendum on the New Zealand Flag – Preliminary Result

Electoral Commission: 2014 General Election Official Count Results – Overall Status

Good Returns: Do not file New Zealand Superannuation just yet

TVNZ News: Two-thirds against changing flag, poll shows

NZ Herald: Poll indicates flag unlikely to change

Radio NZ:  Current flag the favourite – poll

Beehive: First steps taken towards flag referendum

TV3: The Nation – interview with John Key

Radio NZ: Media commentator Gavin Ellis (audio) (alt. link)

NZ Herald: Audrey Young – John Key a loser on flag referendum but not a failure

NZ Herald: How did New Zealand vote?

Wikipedia: Helensville – 2014 Election

Fairfax media: Andrew Fyfe’s Koru flag design

NZ Herald: UK forgets NZ ties, Key tells Cameron

Otago Daily Times: Asset sales referendum ‘waste of money’

TV1 News: Helen Clark: ‘The pragmatism and focus I have are what the UN needs right now’

Radio NZ:  Flag debate – Politics distracted people from real meaning – Sir Jerry (Audio link)

Other Bloggers

Bowalley Road: Whoops And Cheers For Democracy’s Flag

Bowalley Road: Was Class The Decisive Factor In Determining The Flag Referendum’s Outcome?

Pundit: God Save the Flag vs God Defend the Flag?

No Right Turn: A referendum on John Key

The Daily Blog: Not a bad result for opponents of the colonial flag

The Daily Blog: Battle Lines: Occasional Dispatches From the Class War

The Daily Blog: Key’s Colonial Daze

The Standard: Flag distraction result today

The Standard: What the flag vote means

Previous related blogposts

Letter to Radio NZ: Key, the flag, and irrelevancies

Letter to the editor – a new angle in the flag debate

Flying the flags of discontent – MOBILISE!

The Flag Referendum – A strategy for Calm Resistance

John Key is a principled man – except when a photo op arises (A Photo Essay)






This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 April 2016.



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