The flag debate so far: The good, the bad, and the Laser Kiwi

October 12, 2015

The flag debate so far: The good, the bad, and the Laser Kiwi

While not a serious contender, the Laser Kiwi design gained a local and international following.

The designs

The hefty $27 million price tag of the referendum has been a sore spot with many people, as has the $200,000 nationwide roadshow of workshops and hui at which public turnout ranged from a dismal eight people in New Plymouth to 75 in Waitangi.

Where the public did play a large role was in the design process, submitting a flood of silver fern, koru, and Southern Cross motifs in a total of 10,292 designs.

The more creative received international attention and ridicule with the Telegraph, the Guardian and CNN compiling the best of the worst designs.

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver even devoted two segments to the New Zealand flag referendum, saying of the laser kiwi design: “If you saw that flag it would be impossible not to immediately pledge allegiance to it”.

As the panel was swamped with designs, it has been swamped with controversy, with the twelve members including three academics, two CEOs and an Olympian – but no designer.

However the panel did claim to have sought ‘expert advice’ before choosing the final four – not from a vexillologist (flag expert), but a designer whose previous experience consisted of Nike sports shoes and washing machines, official documents allegedly revealed.


People took to Twitter to express their disdain for the final four chosen designs

The lack of confidence in the panel saw the creation of a ‘flag tindr’ site which pitted designs against one another with users voting which they preferred, or simply voting ‘they both suck’.

The creator of NZ Flag Vote said the site was made “mainly to show the govt that you can do democracy for less [than] 26 million dollars”.

A political football

The referendum kicked off by breaching the Labour Party’s turf, as the party’s previous eleven leaders had all been vocal about wanting a flag change.

By way of protest, current leader Andrew Little declared he wouldn’t vote in the referendum, which he called merely a “hugely expensive, and highly unpopular, vanity project”.

The Green and Māori parties joined the fray by opposing the referendum in parliament, but Labour went a step further by introducing a bill to change the referendum process.

flag designs

Prime Minister John Key allegedly ditched his favourite flag, the silver fern on black background, after it was compared to ISIS’s flag.

But it was Aaron Dustin’s ‘Red Peak’ – the design with a striking similarity to a US engineering company’s logo and which was compared to Nazi symbolism by New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark – that really brought the debate to a head.

After it gathered enough public support that a 50,000 person petition to include it was brought before parliament, it has been argued over for weeks.

red peak

Despite its popularity, Red Peak wasn’t able to escape scrutiny.

The Greens have finally put the squabble to rest this week, however, as MP Gareth Hughes swooped in with a no-strings-attached bill swiftly adopted by the Government to include Red Peak as a fifth option for the public vote.

Conspiracy theories abound

Some claim early sightings of the red and blue silver fern flag included in the top four shows it has secretly already been chosen as the new flag before the public votes.

The design has been spotted on a packet of bacon, a lapel badge worn by Minister Maggie Barry, and even welcomes two kiwi guests to a Vietnamese hotel in 2013.

plastic plates

“Sightings” of John Key’s new favourite design lead some to claim it had already been chosen as our new flag.

Another conspiracy theory went viral after Ben Vigden claimed removing the Union Jack from the flag would remove ‘due authority’ of the crown in government matters, taking away the power which enforces the 1990 Bill of Rights Act and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Despite ‘due authority’ not actually existing, Mr Vigden’s theory duped enough people to warrant a segment on TV3’s Story.

Meanwhile, the flag debate has also been labelled a “smoke screen” for the TPP, distracting the New Zealand populace away from the trade deal negotiations and toward the referendums $27 million price tag, with cartoonist Toby Morris pointing out the list of things New Zealanders can’t vote on – including sending troops to Iraq, GCSB spying, and sea bed drilling.

Those eligible to vote will be able to rank the flags between November 20 and December 11.

The final vote between the top contender and current flag will begin March 2, 2016.


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