Flag debate: A silver fern to unite us all

5:25 pm on 2 March 2016

OPINION: In just days, the ballot papers for the final run-off referendum on New Zealand's flag will be in your letterbox. Before you will be a choice between our current "defaced British blue ensign" and Kyle Lockwood's silver fern and Southern Cross flag.

The Black, White and Blue Silver Fern flag, designed by Kyle Lockwood

Kyle Lockwood's design (pictured) will face off against New Zealand's current flag. Photo: SUPPLIED

For me, it's been a long trek from the early beginnings of the change-the-flag campaign in 2003. Finally casting a vote on New Zealand's flag will be the realisation of this campaign, which began over a decade ago.

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The late Lloyd Morrison, under the nzflag.com banner, sought a citizen's initiated referendum on the issue. He kicked off the campaign to make it happen in 2004 and we collected 100,000 signatures for a petition to Parliament.

Lloyd was of the view that the referendum should be held in conjunction with the 2005 general election to maximise turn-out.

But, after weekends at public events and on the streets with the erstwhile Wellington co-ordinator, Will de Cleene, it became clear we weren't going to get the numbers in time for the election. The petition was withdrawn.

In the following years there were multiple speeches, articles and other attempts - such as Labour MP Charles Chauvel's member's bill in 2010 - to bring the issue to a vote.

I kept in touch with Lloyd, who was very ill when I saw him for the last time in that year. But he was still very sharp. Lloyd told me his core motivation was to change New Zealanders' attitudes about themselves.

He argued that, as a British colony, Pākehā New Zealanders had been handed prosperity and a high standard of living thanks to the British Empire and the land wars.

As a result, Pākehā clung desperately to the last vestiges of this prosperity and its security, even as it disappeared with Britain's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.

For Pākehā, Lloyd said, changing the flag was about an attitudinal change to see New Zealand as independent and standing on our own two feet. He then added that, for Māori, changing the flag was about finally being acknowledged in one of our country's national symbols.

Lloyd's proposed flag design was a stylised silver fern, not just because it was a well-known New Zealand emblem. To Lloyd, the fact ponga - and, specifically, the silver underside of the fern leaves - were first used by Māori warriors to find their way home was significant.

It was his view that the silver fern was the symbol to unite all New Zealanders, Māori and Pākehā.

This was the core of Lloyd's passion for a new flag. It's a passion I share. A new flag isn't a constitutional change. It's an attitudinal change about who we are.'

Take part in RNZ's non-poll on the flag - our highly unscientific, self-selecting sample of New Zealand opinion. Or, call in to share your view.

A nation's flag is meant to represent the essence of a society. It should be a point of differentiation. Our current flag does not do this. It simply recognises our history, our colonial past, which it is a part of. But respect and understanding for the past does not condemn us to live in it.

So the choice before you when you receive your ballot paper is straightforward. We can have a flag that represents attitudinal change about how we - all New Zealanders - see ourselves. Or we can hang on to the last vestiges of empire. It's time. Let's vote for change.

* Lewis Holden is a leading campaigner for New Zealand to become a republic, and one of those behind campaign group Change the NZ Flag.