New Zealand is in the midst of a long-drawn out referendum to decide whether we should keep our flag (or not), and to decide what should replace it (or not). The whole thing is ridiculous and succinctly defines what I think modern day politics has become: a ruse.
Not one designer was on the panel to narrow the potential flag selection down to a manageable size; I would have expected professional designers to be the ones creating the new proposals, or at least on the selection panel.
Over 10,000 submissions were entered for a new flag and not one of the contributors will be paid; I would have expected a financial reward for the successful design would have been a helpful incentive—to validate credentials, experience and insight.
There have been some valid retorts to the flag process, explaining why change is good for the country, but I see three issues highlighted by the flag change process. These issues reveal something far bigger and deeply unsettling about our system of democracy.
My voice in the overall political system seems unheard. I know one vote in a large collection will nearly always seem irrelevant, but that's why we have been given representatives.
And the 'winner' of my local electorate stormed home by nearly 7,500 votes—56% of the total ballot—which is impressive, but it still doesn't address the fact that collectively 44% of the local populace didn't choose him as their representative. Given that I never see him nor have scheduled 'catch-ups', he certainly doesn't feel like my representative.
I am part of a generation which has been given a voice through blogs, social media and other Internet-based tools like Loomio. We have become spoilt and familiar with being able to throw a vote here and there, or at least given the illusion our voices are being listened to.
Having everyone cast their vote for policies rather than people would be chaotic and tiresome, but until we can allow people to feel like they are heard more regularly we might perpetually snuff out the enthusiasm and hope of the next generation of voters. Voting whimsically for a high-level leader every three years just won't cut it, especially as more and more people become familiar with expressing their own voices in other arenas.
You're a Celebrity... Get Out of Here
Now this wouldn't be a big deal if it felt like experts were the ones presenting each policy, as well as the research or facts involved. Obviously it is currently a political leader's responsibility to gather up all the information and present it as clearly and smoothly as possible, to retain the consistency of the message and the cohesion between policies.
But what it has created is a popularity contest for the people involved, where some people are voted in for how they appear or present themselves, and not for the policies they represent—never mind the research and experts behind them.
If you were to ask a regular lay person what bills or laws are being debated or passed on a regular basis they will either be indifferent or largely uninformed. And yet they could [theoretically] name the people involved with making these decisions. I've got to ask myself: which of these is more important? Is there not a way to bring the facts and research of policies to the fore on a more consistent basis, to get away from the dressings or personalities they are covered in?
Travelling No Show
The flag debate is ultimately a jovial furore for something that doesn't change many day-to-day lives.
The deeper issue plaguing this process is that $26 million has been spent to inform and generate debate, while something that truly matters to the next few decades of New Zealand's history has been pushed away and given little to no funding for public forums and discussion: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
People have marched in the streets to oppose the partnership or the way it has been conducted; the opposition seems to have come from not fully understanding what the deal really involves, or what it will actually mean for the country—both positive and negative.
This comment piece is not designed to attack nor support either the flag referendum or the TPP, but they are tragically juxtaposed to show just how contrasted the processes have been.
Perhaps the current government did not want to reveal all the facets of the multi-party deal, or hasn't presented all the critical ways this partnership will play out for different industries and segments. It's hard for this to not feel like distrust of the people.
Yet, when it comes to the flag, the government has been happy to put on a 25-meeting travelling roadshow to ensure everyone is part of the process. The polar opposite approaches demonstrate what a government is not only capable of doing but also willing to do—inform and involve the country—while at the same time holding secret discussions in private for things that might ultimately impact people's way of life.
While it's easy to criticise a current system there should at least be some incentive or accountability to what we all hold true, and if that involves financial acknowledgement or ability to lead then perhaps it should be looked at.
As Russell Brand said, what we know is that a political system 'shouldn't destroy the planet, shouldn't create massive economic disparity, shouldn't ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power.'
As we seek to be people who are salt and light in the world, let us be the ones to overcome existing barriers in order to represent those on the margins or who feel currently oppressed by the status quo.
I'm praying and hoping for a system that is not held back by existing constraints, but one that reflects the voices of the people, for the people.
Matt Browning is alive with energy and always hopeful for systemic change. He believes the internet is capable of more than creating places for trolls or memes of penguins with moustaches.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html