Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flag flapping

It all began because I wanted a photo.

I went down to the Auckland Harbour Bridge to take a photo to go with my post on Australia Day (26 January). I thought a photo of the Australian and New Zealand flags flying next to each other would be a nice image.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw there was no Australian flag flying on the bridge. Being a curious lad, I decided to find out why.

Transit New Zealand flies the flag of another country on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, along with the New Zealand flag, on that country’s national day (I wrote about that here). The embassy of any country that’s a member of the United Nations can request its flag be flown. Transit New Zealand doesn’t charge for this, but does require a flag be supplied meeting their specifications.

It turns out that Australia has never requested that its flag be flown on the bridge on Australia Day. The only other way a country’s flag can be flown is if the Prime Minister directs it. This happened most notably on the first anniversary of 9/11 when the Prime Minister directed that the US flag be flown on the bridge.

However, when I was researching Australia Day I found out it’s also one of India’s national days, Republic Day. Their independence day is August 15, which the Transit website indicates is also the national day of the Republic of Korea. Wikipedia, however, says Korea’s national holiday is Constitution Day on July 17.

Without meaning to intrude on United Nations diplomats, it seems to me that if both India and Korea have more than one day, Australia could have January 26, India August 15 and Korea July 17. Mind you, if diplomacy were this easy there wouldn’t be any wars. Perhaps it’s best left to the diplomats.

In any event, other flags on the bridge can be fraught. For example, some curmudgeons hate the sight of any flag other than New Zealand’s. More recently, however, there was another twist.

Last week, a Maori group requested that the tino rangatiratanga flag (also known as “the Maori flag”) be flown on the bridge on Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. Transit New Zealand refused, since it would violate the policies mentioned above. Now, a Maori broadcaster and activist has vowed, “Let me tell you, we will get that flag up that pole one way or another.”

Protests are nothing new for Waitangi Day, which commemorates the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the English Crown and Maori. Flags, in fact, have often been at the centre of protests on the day.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the tino rangatiratanga flag flying alongside the New Zealand national flag on Waitangi Day, but I think it should be Parliament that makes the decision. That's partly because flying the flag would extend official recognition to it, but I also think it's unfair to make the agency responsible for administering the bridge try and settle such a divisive issue on their own when that’s the politicians’ job. I can just imagine the abusive phone calls and emails they must be getting from people on both sides of the issue.

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t included a graphic of the tino rangatiratanga flag because the legal issues are unclear—who can use it how and when. However, it’s shown in photos accompanying the news article links, or you can go to the (Wikipedia article) on tino rangatiratanga.

Speaking of flags, here’s a little diversion for you: Without looking it up, which of these two flags is Australia’s and which is New Zealand’s? Here’s a hint: The New Zealand flag is mostly blue, has the British Union Jack and a representation of the Southern Cross constellation on it.

No comments: