“It’s like a married man wanting to marry another wife before he’s even divorced,” yells one man across a room full of people crowded around tables.
He is one of nine people in a room of 45 who opposed changing the New Zealand flag at last night’s Flag Consideration Meeting in Tahuna.
The rest of the room is made up of pro flag enthusiasts and fence-sitters as they discuss of what a flag means to them.
Of the 45 in attendance eight flew the current flag at their own home, six flew it at their business and three worked for a government department that flies the flag.
Flag Consideration Panel deputy chair, Kate de Goldi, sat at one table divided in fierce conversation.
“Our table had bracing discussion, it was vigorous, divided and heated and very good for me to hear as a panel member. You have to sort of anatomise their passion when you’re charged with listening to the community and working out what the various streams of arguments are.”
She says she has to take an even-handed approach and remains officially neutral as she gathers information from the discussions.
“It’s really important that this is happening in meeting like this as there is something really memorable about a face-to-face discussion like this. A lot of people acknowledged that while they came in with one view it was very interesting to hear other people’s”
She says the meeting helped to iron out some of the misconceptions regarding the referendum.
“People are unclear about the referendum process and implications. They think that changing the flag would mean leaving the commonwealth or changes to a lot of legislation, but it doesn’t.”
Nelson RSA president Barry Pont is one of the nine in the room opposed to changing the flag.
“We [the RSA] totally opposed to changing the flag at the moment, mainly because it’s what we’ve gone overseas and fought under. It’s also the way they are going about it, yes we’re a democracy but the question should be ‘yes you want a new flag or no you don’t, not ‘which one do you like best?’, that’s not democracy, they’re jumping the gun.”
He says the discussion was not “clear cut” one way or the other and people were generally accepting of each other’s views.
From an RSA standpoint, Barry says the biggest issue is the timing of the flag referendum.
“The timing couldn’t be worse for us. We have a lot of commemorations coming up until 2019 and we don’t want to be seeing a flag change in that time.”
Tim Bayley has submitted his own design for the new flag along with partner Janet Southwick entitled “The 21st Century Kiwi Flag.” It features a stylised silver fern design on a red and blue background.
Tim says he is “pro change” due to seeing the benefits of having a new flag in Canada.
“We lived in Canada for a number of years in the seventies. We saw the flag they had then when it was very flash and new. Canada hasn’t fallen over, it’s gone from strength to strength and it’s one of the most recognisable flags worldwide.”
He says last night’s discussion was a lot more positive than he expected.
“There are some people with super super strong opinions who you are never going to get to change but I think most of the negativity just comes from the cost. It’s an unfortunate cost but it’s the cost of democracy. I suggested they should have put an electronic voting system in for the referendum.”
One point was raised about flags and maritime law by Alister Dickson who says he often feels let down with having to fly a red flag ensign overseas on his yacht due to archaic commonwealth law.
“If you’re on a New Zealand registered ship overseas then you’re not allowed to fly a blue ensign flag, you’re required to fly a red one. If you go out to marinas around the world on a yacht with a red flag it means nothing. Overseas yachts in our port can fly the blue New Zealand flag as a courtesy flag but we can’t even fly our own flag.”
He says he’d also like to see a change in flag design.
[pullquote position=”right”]“I’m pro-change. I’m not against the current flag but I’d like to see something a bit more unique. If you look at the Canadian flag it stands out like dogs balls.[/pullquote]
Discussion panelist and flag historian Malcolm Mulholland says he was surprised at the numbers of pro flag supporters.
“This is my second discussion after Greymouth. There was about a fifty fifty split there but support for a change seems to be higher here.”
Both Malcolm and Kate will continue to hold meetings as they move their way up through the North Island.
The education process will go right up until the referendums take place at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016.