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Christopher Luxon: 'I'm supporting flag change'

Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon shares his views on the flag referendum and whether he is supporting a change.
Kyle Lockwood's winning flag design.
Kyle Lockwood's winning flag design.

Regardless of what you think of the process, the shortlisted designs, or even the Prime Minister, we now have a very simple and binary choice facing us. Do we adopt a new flag or stick with the status quo?

We're all entitled to have our own individual views on the subject. However, as several folk have asked me what I think about the choice, I've decided to share my reasons for supporting a change, and the adoption of a new flag.

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Kyle Lockwood's flag with black, white and blue wins first referendum

The Silver Fern

I really like that the silver fern is the focal point of this new flag. It is truly iconic and unique to us as a country. It cannot be claimed by any of the world's other 195 countries.

Throughout the history of our country the silver fern has come to embody the very spirit of New Zealand. In fact, many of us have consciously or unconsciously chosen to adopt it as the icon that best represents us when we attend national events.

I also like the symbolism behind it.

Māori hunters and warriors used the silver underside of the fern fronds to find their way home.

When bent over, the fronds would catch the moonlight and illuminate a path through the forest. Given our large diaspora and instinct to travel widely and engage with the world, I like the notion of the silver fern playing a role in guiding and helping us find our way back home to New Zealand.

Some have said the silver fern is an overused logo and not a suitable emblem for a flag. I disagree.

I lived in Canada for some years and the Canadians had the same initial reservations in 1965 about the use of the maple leaf on their flag.

Fifty years on, the maple leaf is now the singular iconic identifier of Canadians.

Frankly, who cares whether the silver fern is used in logos or on flags? The most important thing is that it identifies us as New Zealanders and helps us stand out on the world stage.

Canada's current flag.
Canada's current flag.
Canada's previous flag.
Canada's previous flag.

The biggest and best known flags, like the stars and stripes of the USA and the union jack of the United Kingdom, have been around for hundreds of years. Other countries like Canada with its maple leaf, Japan with the rising sun, or Switzerland with the red and white cross are easily identified by their iconic flags.

I think the silver fern is on par with those global icons.

I believe as a country we've already self-selected the silver fern icon, and this distinctly New Zealand symbol is considered a badge of honour by the people, products and services of our country that carry it.

As the CEO of Air New Zealand I know I certainly feel that way.

Our brand team put the silver fern on our aircraft livery in 2013 to accompany the iconic koru, and strengthen our "New Zealandness". It's now impossible not to miss the fact we're a little airline from New Zealand with New Zealand in our name, a koru on our tail and a silver fern on our aircraft!

From British Air Traffic Controllers seeing the aircraft fly into London for the first time, to the travellers who rush to observation decks in Melbourne and Hong Kong, to our customers wanting photographs with the aircraft, they all tell us they love the silver fern and its connection to us as a New Zealand company.

I appreciate it was a change, but our customers have considered it a great evolution - respectful of the past and a modern expression for our future. And this is how I see our new flag design.

Air New Zealand aircraft features silver fern designs.
Air New Zealand aircraft features silver fern designs.

I believe standing out is an important part of our decision about the flag.

We often get very caught up in the bubble of New Zealand, but the reality is there is a much bigger world out there comprising of 196 countries and 7.3 billion people.

Having lived overseas for 16 years, met lots of interesting people, and participated in many global forums and meetings, the reality is that much of the world is unsure of where New Zealand is, let alone how to identify us.

Having our current flag confused with the Australian flag makes absolutely no sense for a mature and independent nation like New Zealand. Cutting through clutter and confusion is critical. Standing out on the global stage and putting our best foot forward is important.

As the CEO of the biggest commercial company promoting and marketing New Zealand offshore, I certainly think we can make more impact with the new flag than the current one.

Australia's flag is often mistaken for our own.
Australia's flag is often mistaken for our own.

We have evolved tremendously as a country over the last 100 years.

The current flag represents our past English heritage.

In marketing terms, the New Zealand flag is essentially a "sub-brand device" of the union jack brand. Regardless of what you think of our constitutional arrangements as a country, I think the silver fern is now a much better representation and projection of the "new New Zealand" and all of us as New Zealanders than the union jack. The flag and our constitutional arrangements are not mutually exclusive.

Many Commonwealth countries have maintained the Queen as Head of State yet also removed the union jack from their flags - Canada being the prime example.

The Southern Cross

The second element I like on the flag is the Southern Cross.

While several southern hemisphere countries from Brazil to Australia to Samoa also include variations on their flags, it does in fact tell the world where we are.

The Southern Cross constellation is a distinctive and striking feature of the southern hemisphere night sky. It highlights our place in the world and our origins.

The symbolism is also special with Māori likening the Southern Cross to an anchor of a great sky canoe, or an opening in the sky that the winds blew through, while early European voyagers recognised it as a cross. It's importance is underscored by it being on the current flag and it provides very critical continuity in the new flag.

The Colours

Initially I preferred variations of all black silver fern flag designs. However, I've been flying the proposed blue and black silver fern flag at home and have also seen it flying in different contexts in different cities across New Zealand, and it has really grown on me.

Alternative flag design.
Alternative flag design.

I think the new flag looks stunning blowing in the breeze and it encompasses all the colours that mean something to New Zealanders - black, blue, red, white.

The arguments against

Some oppose the new flag largely on the grounds that our veterans served and soldiers died under the current flag.

I'm extremely grateful for our veterans and the service they have given our country to protect our freedom and liberties. However, I personally disagree with this argument.

Over the summer I was reading my great-grandfather's military file and letters home. He served in WW1 in France and many of his friends were buried in graves marked with silver ferns. They were as Tom Brokaw said "the greatest generation" and he continued to be a soldier serving at home in WW2 as an older man.

At the end of WW2 he was presented with The New Zealand War Service Medal that features a prominent silver fern on one side and George VI on the other with a black and white ribbon. Ultimately, I'm not convinced our soldiers fight for the flag.

Rather I think they fight for the values and people of our country.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon.
Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon.

Albeit on a different level, many of our world class sports people have told me they compete with everything they have to represent our country and people as well as they can, rather than for the flag per se.

I'm sure over summer many families and friends have talked about the decision we face. The views and debates will no doubt have been energetic. That's how it should be. Yet, I think those of us who have no view and are apathetic about the flag are copping out, and that frankly isn't the New Zealand way. A "hard yes" or a "hard no" is always better and more respected than no decision at all.

I appreciate that some feel that the cost of the flag referendum process could have been spent elsewhere in the economy. The reality is that the money, rightly or wrongly, has now been spent.

As a business person I believe that with a GDP of $231 billion, New Zealand really can afford this. Most importantly, I do think questions of statehood and national identity, while they do ultimately cost something, are extremely important.

From our history, we know we are a country that can have robust and real conversations on important topics with each other while respecting each other. It is in our nature to disagree without being disagreeable. We have been debating our flag on and off for decades now.

The great thing about our democracy is that regardless of whether you're a public or a private individual, we are all equal. And we now have an opportunity to settle this issue once and for all.

Our Future

I think the coming days and decision are truly exciting.

We have a world of opportunity in front of us as a country. We are seeing a once-in-a-generation shift of power - economically, intellectually and culturally - from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and New Zealand right in the middle of it all.

I believe we need to go forward positively and confidently, determined to shape our future rather than just let it happen to us.

The decision for a new flag that unites and identifies us as a positive, dynamic and progressive country is a critical part of that.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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