Present flag speaks of another time, country

I feel quite ill when conscience demands I write a sentence of unqualified praise for our political masters.

But helped by a gumboot shiraz and a Panadol, we man up, and get on with it. Here goes:Despite popular thought to the contrary, the Government has made a first rate job of planning the new flag referendum.

And if you believe it's wasted $25million boring the populace, you'll soon be proved spectacularly wrong.

True, the first months of the Flag Consideration Project have been as dull as its name. But that was to be expected while they did the dreary spade work of research and consultation. Things don't get interesting until we set eyes on the possible new flags.

That's now about to happen. This month the project's panel of luminaries releases its ''long list'' of 50 plus flags winnowed from 10,000 odd entries. (So much for alleged disinterest.)

After a month's public palaver, they produce a four flag shortlist. Before Christmas the nation will vote to choose one that runs against the present flag in a March referendum.

Come the new year, you won't escape the pub or the proctologists' ball without a flag argument. It will be the media's subject du jour. Talkback jocks will jabber. There will be no place to hide, as we enjoy democracy at its most glorious.

Let me nail my colours to the mast. I'm for a new flag. I respect our present one, but it speaks of another country - the very different New Zealand of the past. It symbolises origins we've grown beyond.

The blue Southern Cross flag with its dominating Union Jack, is our third. We were just a British colony when it was introduced in 1902, but soon to become (dear God) a ''dominion'' - from the Latin ''Dominium'', meaning a country subject to another's ruler.

We may find the term insulting, but our great grandparents didn't. In 1902, nearly half had wet their first nappy in the British Isles. (Today's UK born figure is just 4%.) I recall my own grandparents' wistful immigrant speak about ''mother country'' and ''home''.

Until the 1950s, much of our art and literature was obsessed with a great puzzle - what it really meant to be a New Zealander.

Mired in culture cringe, and in awe of anything London, a Union Jacked flag seemed properly parental to a country whose nationhood was still in short pants.

That parent turfed us out of home in 1973 when it joined the European Economic Community, and left us high and dry. Yet our old master's insignia still sits proud - top left on our flag.

We hear three main arguments for keeping this flag.

It's claimed change would dishonour servicemen who died fighting for the flag. This is nonsensical - the Kiwis we honour on Anzac Day died serving their country. I doubt the flag crossed their minds.

It is argued that removing the Union Jack somehow disrespects the country's Queen. Well, actually, it doesn't, and the Queen has her own distinctive Royal Standard. The Union flag is her country's banner.

The third argument for the status quo is that the flag is historic. That's true, but also the core of the problem. The flag tells the world the British part of our history remains paramount to us today.

And this is a flag adopted when the colony still excluded Maori from its main census count - a flag which ignored and obliquely insulted our Polynesian past. Yes, it's that far out of touch.

Fiji is about to remove the Union Jack from its flag, leaving only three of the 49 self governing Commonwealth countries that keep it - us, Australia and those parts of Tuvalu which remain above water. It's right to value the British part of New Zealand's heritage.

But it's wrong that in 2015 we keep a different, distant, country's flag as the most eye catching feature of our own.

This denigrates us, and it does it very directly. Our country has built its own identity. It's time our flag reflected it.

John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer.

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