A conversation in Wellington. "Right-o. We've won the election. Now, let's sort that flag out."
"Yes sir. There are some important questions we should ask before we change the national flag. Like, what defines us as a nation? What does the flag mean to us in its current form? What would we prefer it to convey?"
"Ha! Those questions are so cute. No, what I'm thinking is that we'll run a giant talent quest. We'll get everyone to vote for their favourite new design and then we'll have a big showdown between the winner and the current flag. Two binding referendums, job done."
"Won't that just make it a design popularity contest? Changing the national flag is quite a big deal. We're about to turn it into NZ Flag Idol."
"Flag Idol? I love it. Let's just get on with it. Then we can finally get rid of that pesky Union Jack."
"About that, sir. I was thinking we should discuss our place in the Commonwealth. Shouldn't we have that conversation first as a nation, before we change the flag?"
"No, no, let's just change the flag and the rest will sort itself out."
"Sir, I'm keen for a new flag too, but I wonder if we are skipping a few important steps here. How about we slow things down and work instead towards launching a new flag in conjunction with a major milestone or a significant national celebration? That would give the whole discussion more purpose and focus."
"What sort of milestone?"
"Well, as an example, in 2040 it will be 200 years since the Treaty of Waitangi. In 2043, it will be 150 years since New Zealand women won the right to vote."
"That's ages away. I want this flag changed now."
"Then let's find something else a bit closer. Suppose we do eventually cut our ties with Mother England? That would surely be a natural time to reconsider the flag. The country could even plan ahead instead of having it jammed hastily between elections."
"It's not hasty. This is a very thorough and very expensive process."
"Of course, sir. I'm just suggesting that, done well, the launch of a new flag is an opportunity to get the whole nation cheering with pride. I'm not sure that an either/or referendum will unite the country."
"I'm not trying to unite the country. I just want to give the flag a spruce-up. Crikey, why is everyone taking this so seriously? You'd think they died for the flag or something."
"Sir, many of them did."
"Yes, yes of course. I know that. But look, they died fighting for the country that the flag represents, not for the flag itself. Can we have a new design and continue to honour the sacrifices that have been made for New Zealand? Of course we can."
"Naturally, sir, but let's have that conversation with the public too. My concern here is that we are about to vote on a new flag in isolation from these very real issues. We need a good reason to change the flag, a reason that resonates with the whole nation. We need a reason that declares this is who we are and this is why we love being New Zealanders. Sir, that's the depth of sentiment that needs to drive a national flag change."
"Poppycock. All that matters is whether you prefer design A over design B. People will pick the flag they like best and we'll end up with something most of them are happy with."
"Is that really the best outcome? When the world asks us why we changed our flag, the only answer we'll have is: because we kind of liked that other one better."
"Sounds fine to me. So long as it's better. Bring on NZ Flag Idol."
Marcel Currin is a Tauranga writer and poet.
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