John Oliver has devoted more time to mocking John Key and New Zealand on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, than he has spent ever talking about Australia. That has got to be some kind of silver lining, especially if we accept that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
The flag change has been derided by many, with Paul Henry calling Key’s favoured replacement ‘bloody awful’. The risks of taking Paul Henry seriously on anything to do with aesthetics is, I hope, obvious. But if we have a look at the criticisms of the flag change, there isn’t a whole lot in the argument against ditching the old standard.
One of the most common and lucid criticism is that it is a non-issue that shouldn’t be taking up time. That is well and good as an argument for keeping the flag off the agenda, but is actually not an argument at all on the subject of the change. We shouldn’t be having the debate at all, rather than yes we should change or no we shouldn’t. This argument can thus be dispensed with be John Key making it clear that we are going to have the debate, and thus it is time to take a position and stop dodging the issue.
Other arguments are more particularly about the flag itself. The RSA believes we shouldn’t be considering changing the flag during the centenary of World War One. I find this silly because the RSA is trying to look reasonable when the fact is they oppose a flag change at anytime. Grasping at the straw of WWI is pathetic and they should know that. Furthermore, the soldiers who died under the flag presumably were dying for king and country, for the rights and freedoms that have continued to mature and be nurtured today. One of those freedoms has to be the right of the people to decide on the symbol that represents them. When you examine the RSA’s argument it scatters like a routed army.
John Oliver and Paul Henry have both announced their distaste for the flag alternatives on their respective television shows, and the debate on the aesthetics of the new flag seems much more worth having. But when Canada decided to change the national flag to the maple leaf, a flag that now sees universal approval, it was a hugely controversial issue. Our referendum is going to be controversial, and no doubt there will remain a few stubborn losers who continue to fly the old flag. But this could turn out to be a highly successful change, if we can give up the drama and just make a choice.