The future for New Zealand’s flag: 4 scenarios

Skærmbillede 2017-03-21 kl. 11.33.22

New Zealand voted to keep its existing flag one year ago. The flag of New Zealand is still the one that looks very similar to the Australian flag and has the British Union Flag in the upper hoist and the Southern Cross in the lower fly. Now, the flag referendum last year doesn’t mean the debate is over.

The existing NZ flag, adopted in 1902, won the referendum. But it wasn’t because it has no critics or because everyone agrees to never change it. Rather, a sizable portion of the electorate wasn’t happy with the alternative flag designs and voted for status quo in the hope for better options ahead. So, what are the possible scenarios for the NZ flag in years to come?

1. New Zealand keeps the existing flag forever

Despite years of debate and widespread political support for a new flag, the existing flag won the second round of the referendum in March 2016 with 57 % of the votes. The voter turnout was 68 %. However, the whole process and the cost of it all was heavily criticized. Also, public enthusiasm about the issue could have been much higher.

In this scenario, the debate will slowly die out, if nothing else, out of sheer fatigue. For the time being, no-one has the political guts to reopen the debate and spend more money on changing the flag. Those who don’t like the existing flag won’t be able to present a clear alternative. And so, the result is that New Zealand never changes its flag.

2. A less democratic process

The flag debate and the referendums of 2015 and 2016 was a very democratic process. New Zealanders wouldn’t want it any other way. Or would they? The problem with a lengthy, bottom-up process is that it results in hundreds of flag designs, most of which are very far off the mark. Designers have pointed out that inviting people to participate who hasn’t the faintest idea about design, might not lead to the best possible result.

In this scenario, New Zealand has a go at changing the flag once more. But this time the process is much more top-down. Parliament appoints a committee of flag specialists and designers and let them come up with one single alternative flag for people to vote on in a third referendum. Also, Parliament could make the final decision without a referendum.

3. Kyle Lockwood revisited

In the first round of the referendum in November-December 2015, two flag designs made by the same designer got almost the same amount of votes. Kyle Lockwood’s red-white-blue Silver Fern Flag got 42 % of the first preference votes, his black-white-blue Silver Fern Flag got 40 %. In the end Lockwood’s black, white and blue design got 51 % of the two-flag preferred vote and went to the second referendum. It was this design which lost against the existing flag with 43 % of the votes.

Kyle Lockwood combined elements of the existing flag with the Silver Fern, already a popular symbol of New Zealand. With two successful designs in the first round, it’s reasonable to suggest that any viable alternative to the existing flag must be a Lockwood flag.

In this scenario Kyle Lockwood is asked to rethink his two top scoring designs and come up with the perfect Silver Fern and Southern Cross flag for New Zealand.

4. Total chaos

None of the five proposed designs which got to the first round of the referendum was able to beat the existing flag in the second round, but each of them was liked by a group of people. Supporters started using these flag designs in front of their houses, on stickers and online leading up to the referendum. Some still do.

The risk of letting people campaign for six different national flags for years is that it becomes very difficult to unite around just one flag in the end. The most important purpose of a national flag is that it unites people.

In this scenario, two or three of the flag designs from 2015 are in unofficial use for years to come, causing lots of devisive arguments among New Zealanders and confusion abroad.


Sapphire Jubilee


65 years ago today, on 6 February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne of seven different countries: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Ceylon.

When King George VI died, his eldest daughter, 25-year old Princess Elizabeth, had just set out on a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand. She was still in Kenya when the news of the King’s death reached her. The following year on 6 June 1953 she was crowned in Westminster Abbey in London.

British monarchs since the time of Queen Victoria, the first Empress of India, had all been Kings and Emperors. But after World War II the British Empire, spanning dominions, protectorates and colonies on all five continents, entered a period of dissolution. One by one new nations gained independence. In 1947 the Empire of India was partitioned and the main part became the Republic of India.

Pakistan became a republic in 1956. So, at the time of her succession, Elizabeth was also Queen of Pakistan. In 1952 the country consisted of both West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan was defined as the majority Muslim territories of British India. The flag of Pakistan, adopted in 1947, was inspired by the flag of the All-India Muslim League. Sectarian violence, the Kashmir conflict and other tensions between Pakistan and India led to four wars including the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

Ceylon only became a republic under the name of Sri Lanka in 1972. A year before Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne, the flag of Ceylon had been changed to include symbols of all three major religious communities on the island. The maroon colour, the lion and the four leaves represent the Sinhalese majority and the Buddhist faith. The orange stripe represents the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Hindu faith. The green stripe represents the Sri Lankan Moors and the Muslim faith.

The Statute of Westminster in 1931 underlined the equal status of the United Kingdom and all of the so-called Dominions, e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Already at the beginning of the 20th Century the nominal independence of these countries had been established.

South Africa was a monarchy in 1952, having been established in 1910 with the unification of four previous British colonies: the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange River Colony (the former Oranje Free State). The flag of South Africa between 1928 and 1994 put together the British Union Flag and flags of the former Dutch Boer republics. South Africa became a republic in 1961. Princess Elizabeth had visited the country in 1947 with her parents. Not until the end of Apartheid did she revisit. Elizabeth II, the former Queen of South Africa, was received by Nelson Mandela, the first black South African president in 1995.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand remained monarchies. Today, they are among the 16 independent nations where Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented in everyday constitutional life by a Governor-General. The flags of New Zealand and Australia stem from the 1900s. The flag of Canada was a version of the British Red Ensign until 1965 when the red and white Maple Leaf (or l’Unifolié) was adopted.

The British Empire is no more. In its stead, the Commonwealth of Nations unites 52 independent countries, most of which are former British territories. Elizabeth II is the greatly respected head of this intergovernmental organization, a role she has fulfilled for 65 years.

Why Fiji Didn’t Change Its Flag


October 10th is Fiji Day. A new Fijian flag was supposed to have been at the centre of independence day festivities at this year’s Fiji Week. But Fiji won rugby gold at the Olympics in August and that changed everything.

Not only Australia and New Zealand have ongoing flag debates because of the ties to the UK in their national flags. Australians have discussed the removal of the Union Jack from their flag for years, and in New Zealand a two-step referendum was held to replace the current NZ flag with a new one.

Parallel to events in New Zealand it was also announced by the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, that he wanted Fiji to have a new national flag without the Union Jack in the upper hoist. The country needs a more indigenous and truly Fijian symbol to honour, now and in the future, it was argued.

The current Fijian flag is a light blue version of the British Blue Ensign with the coat of arms of Fiji in the fly. It was adopted as an update of earlier Fijian colonial flags in 1970 at the time of Fiji’s independence from the United Kingdom.

A flag design competition in 2015 resulted in 23 different designs for a new flag. However, the proces was met with staunch resistance from the opposition in Fiji’s parliament. A flag change is not what the country is asking for, rather the flag is highly revered and dear to the people of Fiji, opposition MPs protested in February 2016. Prime Minister Bainimarama refused to let a referendum decide the matter.

In March this year the New Zealand flag referendum was won by the current flag. Prime Minister John Key, who had led the campaign for a new NZ flag, accepted defeat. 2,000 km northeast of New Zealand, the Fijian flag issue was again delayed with no real news about a decision.

Then, on 11 August 2016, Fiji won the men’s rugby sevens competition at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The rugby-crazy island nation erupted with pride and happiness over the 43–7 win against Great Britain! The light blue Fijian flag with its Union Jack was waved vigorously by fans in the Brazilian stadium and for days afterwards in Fiji.

Six days after the Olympic victory for Fiji an announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office read: It has been deeply moving to witness the way Fijians have rallied around the national flag as our rugby sevens team brought home Olympic gold. And it continued: It has been apparent to the Government since February that the flag should not be changed for the foreseeable future.

Frank Bainimarama also said that the cost of a flag change would be better spent on the ongoing recovery of severe tropical cyclone Winston which hit Fiji on 20 February 2016 killing 44 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Response on social media indicates that this is a very popular decision and may indeed put off the flag debate in Fiji for a long time.

Rowing Blade Flags

Skærmbillede 2016-08-11 kl. 20.09.15

Rowing blades have the same function as flags. Their design make it possible to identify competing rowers from a distance. Where national flags are sometimes too similar, rowing blades are ment to be much more distinguishable.

The rowing competitions at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have ended with a total of three British gold medals. Germany’s and New Zealand’s Olympic teams rank second with two gold medals each.

In the most prestigious categories Mahé Drysdale of New Zealand won the men’s single scull competition and Kim Brennan of Australia won the women’s single scull competition; Great Britain came first in the men’s eight competition and USA won gold in the women’s eight competition.

A total of 69 countries qualified at least one rower to participate. So, a wide range of rowing blade designs could be seen on the water in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.

Together with national flags and specially designed clothing, rowing blades are part of the branding and symbolism that surround the competing teams at professional rowing events. Going back a very long time, boats, oars, and blades have sported the colours of their respective national, club, school or university teams.

Simple, easily visible and mutually distinguishable designs on oars makes it possible to identify different competitors from afar. This is the reason why not all national rowing teams sport their national flag on their blades.

Countries with rowing blades similar to the national flags are e.g. Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia and South Africa.

Other countries use rowing blades with elements of their national flags: The People’s Republic of China a white background with five golden stars on a red band. Norway a red background with white-blue-white stripes. Denmark a white background with a red stripe. This is the reverse of the Danish flag which has a white cross on red. The white-red-white design, unusual in a Danish context, may be explained by the wish not to be confused with Switzerland’s or Austria’s designs.

The United States of America use blades with a design not unlike the flag of Czechia: Two horizontal bands of red and blue and a triangle of white. The colours are those of the US flag, the Stars and Stripes.

A third group of countries incorporate elements of their national coat of arms in their rowing blade designs. Sweden’s three yellow crowns on blue blades are identical to the Swedish coat of arms. The red and white checkers from the arms of Croatia on flags, sports clothes and rowing blades make Crotia’s sporting teams and Olympic athletes easily recognizable. The Greek rowing blades have the white cross on a blue background known from Greece’s arms and flag.

Finally, a fourth group of countries use rowing blades with no connection to the national flags and arms. The blades of the New Zealand team are black with a silver fern and the letters NZ in white. The blades of the Australian team are white with vertical tripes of green-yellow-green.

Many sports fans all over the world know very well that the sporting colours of Australia are green and yellow and those of New Zealand are black and white. For example, the famous NZ national rugby team is know as the All Blacks. The flags of Australia and New Zealand may look very much alike, the rowing blades of these rowing superpowers certainly do not.


This is part 2 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag