Flagging Spirits by Trevor Plumbly
For those of you out there who haven’t heard it, this New Zealand catch cry is usually delivered by sports commentators after a victory of some sort to airbrush the sacrifices our sportspeople undergo to stand on the world’s stage. I’m all for a bit of national pride, but I honestly feel it would be much healthier if it were born out of internal well-being rather than success in the international sports arena. The reason for my taking this tack arises from three announcements this week. The first was that two drugs, previously prohibited by cost to multiple sclerosis sufferers, will finally be made available to them at an affordable price. The second item announced that our child poverty problem is still regarded as serious despite ‘increased funding and effort’. Lastly, it was confirmed in the news that there will be a referendum on the need for a new national flag.
The New Zealand drug buying agency (Pharmac) has taken years to offer any sort of affordable or practical relief for those that suffer from MS and it’s hard to regard the recent development as any sort of success on their part. Obviously they have funding restrictions along with all government agencies, but when it comes to MS, Parkinson’s disease and the like, we’re dealing with people living with pain and, in any caring country, that should be a priority rather than a budgetary consideration. Meanwhile, residents in the far north of the country, especially Maori, have battled unemployment and poverty for decades; the rest of us (the more fortunate) have always been aware that there was a problem, but like most we sort of accepted it as ‘theirs’.
Complacency comes naturally to those of us sitting comfortably in the middle income bracket and sometimes we need a pretty good shake-up to kick us into awareness. In this case we got it via the World Health Organisation report that little progress had been made in improving child poverty in NZ over the last four years. In the wake of this conclusion, teachers of young children reported that some pupils were attending school shoeless and hungry. One politician (bless him) said that this was good because the situation hadn’t got any worse! When those responsible claim success through their own inability to achieve anything, we’ve all got something to worry about.
The People Must Be Heard!
Indeed they must, especially when it comes to something as mundane and inconsequential as a flag. From my standpoint, flags are a hangover (excuse the pun) from medieval times: once a rallying symbol, to be blindly followed into battle, everybody with a suit of armour had one and it was regarded as a great cachet if you captured the other guy’s. They fly from every government building, but I’ve yet to spot anyone gazing up at them looking fulfilled or enriched. Put simply, they may play a daily part in military routine or produce a fleeting fizz of national pride wrapped around a winning athlete, but for the rest they largely flutter unnoticed.
Yet in their total stupidity, our leaders are prepared to spend an estimated $26 million on designing and getting public approval for a ‘new’ one. OK, the one we’ve got is pretty boring, but hell, with the exception of ‘The Jolly Roger’ so are most of the others. It’s hard to believe that a ‘new’ flag will inspire a fresh flood of nationalistic fervour or give a great deal of comfort to those waiting for medical relief, and, as for those kids up north, a different coloured bit of cloth waving in the breeze should take their minds off things.