Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The NZ flag referendum explained

The video above was posted a couple weeks ago, thought I only saw it tonight. It’s a very accurate description of the referendum and the process, and it’s also reasonably impartial, which is a plus. Naturally, YouTube commentators couldn’t leave it at that.

The first criticism was that it ripped off CGPGrey, whose videos I’ve shared many times because I’m a fan. The main complaint seemed to be the animated explanation of the preferential voting system used in the first flag referendum. This is a pretty silly criticism.

CGPGrey did a video on the Alternative Voting system, which is basically the same thing. I shared that video back in 2011 (bottom of the post). That video uses the metaphor of an election in the animal kingdom, as his other videos on electoral systems did, and also uses a very simplistic explanation of how the second round votes are distributed. This made it easier to understand, but created the impression that the second choice votes for an eliminated candidate always go to the same candidate. Still, it was a fair trade-off to explain how the voting system works in general terms,

The video above however, far more realistically and accurately shows the redistribution process, that the second preference votes are distributed among many candidates, not just to one. This is important to understand if one is to understand how we ended up with the flag design we did (and judging by online commentary, many New Zealanders don’t understand that). The use of fruits, by the way, is also the way the NZ Electoral Commission explains how our voting system works—fruit standing in for parties, or, in this case, for flag designs. It’s a way of avoiding apparent bias.

So, those parts are similar, but clearly different. And, the video above is actually more accurate. I can’t understand what people are complaining about.

Nevertheless, I do have criticisms and a few more minor quibbles.

My biggest criticism is that the narration says: “New Zealand has been independent for nearly 70 years”. That simply isn’t factually true, and for a number of reasons.

What he’s referring to is when the New Zealand Parliament adopted the Statute of Westminster, and, later, the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948, which created New Zealand citizenship.

However, it’s also true that after New Zealand failed to join Australia, it became a Dominion, which was self-governing. It signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and became a member of the ill-fated League of Nations, all alongside other independent nations. Then, in 1926, the Balfour Declaration made clear that all Dominions were equal, and so, ratified that New Zealand was in charge of its own foreign affairs, settling any earlier legal ambiguity.

Or, one could also look to the Third Labour Government of Prime Minister Norman Kirk, which passed the Constitution Amendment Act 1973 to make it clear that New Zealand could legislate outside its own territory, and the Royal Titles Act 1973 changed the Queen’s title to “Queen of New Zealand”, no longer mentioning the United Kingdom. Also, the government changed New Zealand passports to indicate the holder was a "New Zealand citizen", and no longer a "British Subject and New Zealand Citizen".

In 1973, the UK joined the Common Market, and ended all the preferential trade deals it had with New Zealand. So, 1973 began a sort of mutual separation.

The point is, New Zealand has no independence date because it evolved alongside the growth of national sovereignty. I realise that all this is difficult to explain in a few seconds, but to suggest that New Zealand DID had a firm date of independence and that it was “nearly 70 years ago” is both factually wrong (NZ has no independence date) and not even “kind of true”—it had a gradual evolution as an independent nation. That section should have been worded entirely differently, something like, “…however, New Zealand is an independent nation, a process that actually began back in 1840” (this, because he shows a representation of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi).

Other less serious problems are that while the narration talking about what New Zealanders thought about the cost, John Key’s involvement, and even how the referendum process should have been structured, are probably accurate or a fair assessment (in my opinion), it would have been better to source those comments. Rather than using “some people”, “many people” and so on, it would have been better to say “a poll found that a majority of New Zealanders felt that…”, or, at least, such a source should have been onscreen in that frame—or at the very least included in the description. This matters because things put to a vote are always contentious, and as I’ve already said many times, it’s not clear WHAT “most” New Zealanders felt about a great many aspects of this whole thing.

So, citing sources could have cleared that up.

There was one other thing that was flat out wrong: The pronunciation of Tuvalu is wrong—it’s actually “too-VAH-loo” (Fiji is also a bit dicey, but close enough).

My criticisms are substantiative, which appears to have been beyond the capabilities of some YouTube commenters who were fixating on what I think was trivial nonsense. I presume this was because they didn’t know the facts (and couldn’t be bothered to fact check), and assumed that one visual segment was too similar to something someone else did (even though the ONLY similarity is that both use easy-to-understand bar charts!).

Despite my criticisms and quibbles, I think this is a very good video. It explains the story so far more thoroughly and more clearly than any other video I’ve seen. It also does so without “taking sides”, which isn’t easy to do in itself.

All in all, a good job, I think.

No comments: