6 Feb 2014

Flag change in the wind

10:25 pm on 6 February 2014

Support for a change to the New Zealand flag is strong among people at Waitangi, there to attend the 174th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty.

Prime Minister John Key last week floated the idea that it was time for a change and raised the possibility of holding a referendum. He said he preferred the silver fern and would consult senior Cabinet ministers to decide whether to push ahead with a vote.

Flags flying at Waitangi.

Flags flying at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ

Many flags were flying at Waitangi marae on Thursday, but the most prominent was the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and the red cross on white of the 1835 flag of the confederation of chiefs, regarded as the first New Zealand flag.

The latter, which also features a smaller red cross on a blue background with white eight-pointed stars in each quarter, flies proudly at the marae itself.

The views of people on the Treaty grounds varied, but all wanted a change in the national flag to better reflect the place of Maori in New Zealand.

Tracey-Leigh Ripa wanted the 1835 flag to become the new national ensign because it was the first flag recognised and it allowed Maori to trade overseas.

"I acknowledge the confederation flag because it was the beginnings of acknowledgement of the British towards Maori and their own independence. That has been superseded by the New Zealand flag, and the sovereignty has shifted because of it, but only in the eyes of those who shifted it."

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag was also flying in Auckland and Wellington alongside the national flag on Thursday. The red, black and white Maori flag was flying on the Auckland Harbour bridge and from Wellington City Council's main building in Civic Square. It was also on display in Whangarei and Nelson.

However, it was not flown by the Hamilton City Council, which has opted for its own authority flag to fly alongside the national flag.

The Christchurch City Council said it is planning talks with tribal organisations, including Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu and six other Maori trust boards, to consider options of flags to be flown from 2015.

Some want change

Jenny Matheson, from Ngati Porou, said the time had come to change the flag and, with it, honour Maori.

"I'm in favour of the Maori flag. Even though it was birthed out of the struggle, through protest ... it has in this new season, I believe, a significant part to play," she said.

The koru design, as used on Air New Zealand planes, had the vote of Denise Schimanski.

"Start afresh and let's go with the greens of the country, with the colour of the country and promote our country in that way, within our flag.

"Air New Zealand does a fantastic job. No matter where you are in the world, you go to another country, when you see that aircraft going over and you see that koru on that aircraft, it gives you butterflies."

Dave Brown, of Kawakawa, suggested a mix of the current New Zealand national flag and the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.

"Instead of just having one that they're saying is theirs, it belongs to New Zealand - take bits and pieces out of both of them and make one big flag."

Emere Tepaea-Robson from Hokianga is in no doubt what is the New Zealand flag - the 1835 confederation flag.

"It's been here since 1835. Why would suddenly there be all this commotion about wanting to change it when it has been legal for all that time," Ms Tepaea-Robson said. "Whatever they put in place isn't going to take the mana from that flag."

The debate rages on but, in the meantime, the current national ensign still takes centre stage at the top of the flagstaff on the Treaty grounds at Waitangi.