2.1 million votes cast from New Zealand's 3.2 million registered voters
By Jenna Hatch, New Zealand
As a teacher, my young pupils didn't care about British colonial images and reported feeling attached to their flag. Even they saw through this pointless political exercise. As a teacher working in New Zealand, I watched with fascination as the debate over the change to the nation’s flag, and the resulting referendum, played out. Now we know the result: the silver fern has been rejected, and the Union Jack remains.
Despite being British, I didn’t have any strong feelings about the outcome – if the citizens of New Zealand chose to dispense with the symbol of colonialism, then so be it. What surprised me was just how strongly the children I teach felt about it, and how attached they were to their cultural history.
In a survey conducted by students in my class, polling 120 11 to 13-year-olds, 71 per cent wanted to keep the old flag and only 29 per cent wanted the new silver fern flag. When asked about their motivations, they said the old New Zealand flag represented their past. It was the flag that their ancestors fought under in the world wars, and the flag they have used to represent their place in the world.
They also said they saw the flag change as a vanity project by the Prime Minister, John Key, wanting to make his mark before he gets kicked out of office. And I agree.
This vote was ill-timed and out of touch with national feeling. Before Key started talking about it, there was little genuine call for a new national flag. In fact, the nation had only last year marked the 100th anniversary of Anzac day, remembering the contribution of New Zealand in World War One. That event, a veritable feast of flag-waving, prompted no such questions.
Yet, once the flag debate began, an important matter arose: one of the key arguments for changing the flag was that the old one failed to represent Maori culture - integral to modern New Zealand, and a critical part of its citizens’ shared history. But how did the new designs represent the Maori people? Students pointed out that swapping the Union Jack for the silver fern would not help in that endeavor at all. No wonder residents were so apathetic about it.
My students, and most people of New Zealand, simply don’t care about the Union Jack. The only reason some supported a change was to differentiate the nation from Australia. The Australian flag was, it is claimed, copied from New Zealand: both depict the UK flag and the Southern Cross.
What Kiwis rarely understand is that, by aligning themselves with Australia so symbolically, overseas they are not seen as different. No doubt Key was aware of that when he wanted to create a new identity for himself and his nation internationally. But, without support at home, that’s not reason enough to waste time, money and political energy on such a pointless exercise. My young students were right: this was nothing more than an expensive vanity project. The Independent, 24 March 2016