All the fuss of committees and referendums could actually see us end up with a watered-down, beige result

I am in shock at the size of the "let's get a new flag" operation.

We have a panel, we have 14 panel meetings, we have community meetings, we have $25 million set aside, we have two votes, and all of this will take two years. Already this is too complex.

The first referendum will be a preferential system, in which we rank whatever the committee has come up with ... and let me come back to that shortly. The winner then goes on to face the incumbent in a winner-takes-all event in 2017.

We are here because the Prime Minister and, as far as I can work out, no one else, wants us to be here. This is John Key's pet project. I know of no one who wants a new flag, which is not to say we shouldn't get one, it is to say I know of no one that's remotely interested in flags full stop.


The people on the panel, some of whom I have had dealings with over the years, have never mentioned flags to me at all. Of the names I know on the panel that's been announced to oversee this gargantuan operation, not one of them strikes me as person with a particular passion for flags. The panel itself is a mistake. Twelve people. Really, 12?

What do we know about committees? We know they water things down. We know that to get consensus among people, you need compromise and compromise is beige-coloured. Committees give you beige decisions. And the more people you have on committees, the more beige the decisions are.

To bring about change of any significance you need momentum, you need a cause, a battle, you need passion, you need desire, you need buy-in and engagement. We have none of that when it comes to the flag. No one is excited about it.

So who's turning up to these community meetings? The same people that always turn up to community meetings. They're like the people who climb trees to save them, people with - shall we say politely - quite a bit of time on their hands. And let's just cut to the chase - just how many options can we realistically have on a flag? The answer is not many.

It needs a fern if it doesn't have a Union Jack. It can't be black because of Isis. It can't be artistic, because flags need to be boring. I wish they weren't, but they all are. It's normally a combination of colours, a national symbol, all wrapped around a fairly simple design for easy recognition.

So given that, surely a bunch of art and design students could run up a dozen different examples, a handful of experts could be dragged together ... and if you're a fan of democracy you put them out for an online vote and find your winner from there.

The reality is many many flags are pretty much the same.

Look at the flags of Italy, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Iran, Trinidad, India, Lithuania, Mali and Mauritius - they're all basically the same. If you want to stick with our colours, I like the Cook Islands'. And if you like colours and stars, how about Cape Verde's.


For design you can't go past Greenland's ... Greenland's, if you don't know, is actually one of the few flags worth looking up and when you see it, it bears no resemblance to anything remotely associated with Greenland, it's just a nice pattern.

And if we're after a nice pattern why not bypass the design students and get some real artistic heavyweights on board - get Dick Frizzell to do something, get Shane Cotton, and if you want radical and controversial get Tame Iti.

Why are we inviting public designs?

If any one of us has a penchant for great design we're probably already in the business.

Getting all and sundry to "have a go" has always struck me as a kind of craft-market type of approach, the sort of place where people make stuff not because they're good, but because they have a shed and they like to try "new things".

If you're going to tackle a project of this nature you have to at least take it seriously, and amateurs with craft skills and committee members with "views" aren't serious.

Apart from anything there is a significant group of New Zealanders who fought under the current flag and it means something, which is not an argument not to change it, but it is an argument to respect it and respect any changes you may be wanting to make.

Maybe I am in a minority, but the flag doesn't mean a lot to me. Of course we have to have one and, given we do, it may as well be half decent, but beyond that it doesn't define me; I don't think any differently about my country or our place in the world.

Our actions, views and participation in the world is what makes us who we are, not a flag.

The upshot here is there can be no winners. You will not get a flag of mass agreement. You will not get a mass turnout to vote. You will have merely started an argument in which there is no conclusion.

Which, I would have thought, is the greatest argument of all to leave the damn thing alone, given no one apart from the Prime Minister was remotely excited about it in the first place.

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