New Zealand: Goodbye to the Union Jack?


During Australia’s 1999 referendum on becoming a republic one of the more asinine arguments against was that the flag would have to be changed. New Zealand, usually more independent minded than its larger neighbor, hasn’t needed the option of withdrawing from the Commonwealth to get rid of the Union Jack. Neither did Canada, back in 1963 and 1964, during its flag debate which led to the Union Jack being replaced by the Maple Leaf in 1965.

New Zealand has decided that it needs a new flag that better represents the country today and that will not again be confused with Australia’s (even Foreign Policy magazine has trouble telling the two apart) and earlier this year it crowd-sourced options from the public. Not much from New Zealand makes it into the international press but this story has, not because asking the public to design its own flag is an interesting barometer of the current national temperament, but because some of the 10,000-plus options were, and statistically this must be predictable, pretty odd. Terminator Kiwi (a kiwi bird with laser beam eyes), or a uni-horned Kiwi below a snapper decorated with the flag being replaced were a couple of the options, as was a deranged cat.

These options did not make the final 40, though the Washington Post did ask New Zealand to reconsider. However, as the selection panel said in an open letter, “A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory.” The letter went on to say that the flag should and will represent how New Zealanders see their country today, and what it stands for.

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The 40 finalists, with many variations on the silver fern, are here. A final four will be brought to binding referendum in a few months and next year a vote will decide whether to keep the original or to switch to the new option. Should Kiwis decide that their new flag better represents the nation than their Southern Cross and Union Jack, Australia will be one of the last countries to retain the remnant of British Imperial glory.


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