Let's get serious - this is an opportunity to say something about New Zealand's place in the world.

In a small moment in Parliament last week that only tragics like me will have seen, the flag debate was raging between Andrew Little and John Key.

Andrew, who by the way is cutting a good figure in the house - which is important given a party draws a lot of strength and mojo from parliamentary performance - was firing question after question over the flag's design, the cost, the meetings that no one turned up to, looking to come to the conclusion that the whole thing is a waste of time and needs to be (no pun intended) flagged.

John got some points in, given he's no fool in the house either, with the revelation - well, it was a revelation to me - that actually when you look at Labour's policy on the flag, turns out it's exactly the same as National's.

They want a consultation period, they want input on design, they want a vote, they want a new flag. The Prime Minister concluded the simple politics of all of this was Labour wanted the flag changed too - they were just aggrieved National had got to the task first.


So, here we are. As far as the process goes the designs are in, and the committee is busy whittling them down to an acceptable number and weeding out the stupid ones.

We're starting to see what I suspect will become a more regular feature, famous people making a pitch for change.

I see Mahe Drysdale (no pun intended) put his oar in the other day, telling us this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be cocked up. It's worth listening to people like Mahe. Why? Because he deals with the flag a lot more than most of us. He drapes it round his shoulders, and wears it on clothing when he wins his golds and his cup and his titles. For a bloke who represents us at the highest level there is a lot of flag interaction going on there and if he's for it, that's a view worth giving weight to.

What's bogged things down so far are the meetings and the rationale.

Let's deal with the meetings. They were open to ridicule from day one, ridicule that I took to with alacrity. I mean, for God's sake, it's 2015, who on earth holds meetings anymore? Who's got time to go to meetings? Answer? Well, clearly no one.

Gareth Morgan's $20,000 winning flag is not unique or special. Illustration / Supplied
Gareth Morgan's $20,000 winning flag is not unique or special. Illustration / Supplied

The design competition was, of course, open to an element of ridicule, given colouring competitions attract the bored and bewildered and people with large collections of coloured pens. But in there are some serious works of art.

Perhaps more troubling than the meetings was the argument over why now - the question, "Is this really the most important thing we have to think about?"

Now, the trouble with the question is that it's the wrong one, but was inevitably going to be asked simply because there are certain issues that can be addressed - but if you're waiting for the so-called "right" time to do it, you'll be waiting forever, because it will never happen.


Which, if you asked the question - and to be honest I did - it's our fault, because it smacks of the sort of thinking that suggests we're really only capable of doing one major thing at a time, which of course is nonsense.

The big ideas of life don't need a calling card or a flag or a big red light to alert us to them. The big ideas of life can be floated or introduced at any given time.

You don't need to ask, "Why now?" The same way you don't need to ask, "Why should we?" Perhaps we should ask, "Why shouldn't we?" What this is really about - and perhaps this is where the Prime Minister has struggled to get clear air - is patriotism. It's about having something truly our own that we can patriotically coalesce around.

What we currently have is what Britain gave us and a bunch of other colonies.

The case the Prime Minister cites most often is Canada. Their flag looked like ours as well, except it was red. They did what we're doing, they wondered aloud whether this was what really spoke to them as a country and as a people - they decided it wasn't and they changed it. What they have now is indisputably Canadian, irrefutably better, and something anyone anywhere would have absolutely no hesitation in saying was Canadian.

The value in something that individual and unique cannot be quantified. It is truly priceless.

The great test, of course, is would they go back? Well, you know the answer.

One of the great things most of us want for this country is to be aspirational. We love to box above our weight. Part and parcel of any successful business, or person or country, is their ability to want more, to be better, and part of that involves never accepting the status quo.

Perhaps that's another thing that's held the debate back to this point - in there being nothing overtly wrong with the flag, too many of us have been lulled into the belief that nothing needs to be done.

But visionaries don't just attend to current issues and put out present dangers and fires, they chart their own course, they shape their own futures, and why can't we be one of those countries - why don't we want to be one of those countries?

The flag they finally choose by way of an alternative is a critical part of this.

If you've seen it, Gareth Morgan ran a contest and gave out 20 grand for the best flag. He got 1000 entries and the winner is a joke. It says nothing about New Zealand, it's not unique or special or different, it's not worth describing other than to say it's a series of red, blue and black triangles.

My gut is the new design must contain the fern. The same way the Canadians respond to the maple leaf, if there is one thing that is instantly recognisable all over the world that is ours, it's the fern.

But let's at least start to take this thing seriously, those of us who have laughed or joked or questioned the very existence of this whole process (like me). Let's at least accept it's here, it's real and once they get to the pointy end of the choice, let's put a bit of weight around our place in the world and the role a flag plays in that.

What we want to say about ourselves, what sort of course we want to chart, what sort of message we want to send.

Mahe is right - this is a once in a lifetime chance. We squander it at our peril.

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