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Of flags and national anthems

By Max Wallace - posted Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Fiji and New Zealand are both seeking to change their flags. The Fijian people will be given until the end of the year to consider proposed alternatives.

The New Zealand parliament has passed the Flag Referendums Bill which establishes a two referendum process, but Prime Minister, John Key, believes any design should feature a silver fern.

Prime Minister Bainimarama rightly believes a new Fijian flag is needed to reflect where Fiji is today. The British Union Jack is out of place in the Fijian flag considering Fiji has been a republic since 1987.


Prime Minister Key spelt out five reasons why New Zealand needs a new flag

  • It is not unusual for countries to change flags
  • The New Zealand flag is frequently confused with the Australian flag
  • The gravestones of New Zealand soldiers killed in wars in Europe have a silver fern, not a New Zealand flag, to distinguish them from the graves of soldiers of other nationalities, so the change does not contradict the flag those men fought under
  • New Zealand needs a recognizable symbol, and the silver fern is as recognizable as the Canadian maple leaf
  • Collectively, these reasons add up to national pride in a symbol that is distinctively New Zealand's

Prime Minister Key did not cite the removal of the Union Jack as a reason for changing the flag, for he remains a constitutional monarchist, opposed to a New Zealand republic.

At the same time, the Labour Leader of the Opposition in New Zealand, Andrew Little, raising the ante, has described New Zealand's national anthem,God Defend New Zealand, as a 'dirge'. Prominent New Zealand First party leader, Winston Peters, went further and said it is a 'funereal dirge.'

Written in 1876 when New Zealand was still a British colony, the lyrics of the God Save New Zealand are those of a 19thC religious hymn, not a statement of current New Zealand values and aspirations.

When the New Zealand flag changes, it will give momentum for the national anthem to change as well.


So, what of Fiji's very similar, and very old, national anthem,God Bless Fiji?

Since 6 September 2013, when the new constitution was declared, Fiji officially became a secular state where all beliefs are treated equally That means citizens are free to embrace a religion if they so choose, but equally, they can decide not to have a religious belief.

A problem with both the national anthems of New Zealand and Fiji is that they clearly preference a religious belief which does not sit comfortably with citizens who do not share that belief.

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About the Author

Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.

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