Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Art with a job to do

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  • Joe Wylie, in reply to tussock,

    Like, you put the Rugby emblem on the NZ flag, you're there. Most people want to vote for the winner and so there it is, y'all knew it was going to win too. Curia told Johnkey and he told the rest of us, not exactly a secret.

    The same school of thought that attempted to micromanage public participation in Canterbury's earthquake recovery by focusing on the hapless Roger Sutton's "personality".

    At the time of the lead-up to the introduction of decimal currency
    "these proposed designs were highly criticised by the public after they were published in the Evening Post. The rugby player drew the sharpest criticism of all."

    Perhaps the same fine official minds that floated the idea that we should have zeals instead of dollars also advised the Holyoake Government that putting a footy player on the 20 cent piece would deliver them a thousand-year reich.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report

  • sandra,

    Love the not-so-subtle message in today's Herald ... John Key posing with the selected contender (ie, holding it up full length) with the current NZ flag shown as pretty small and kind of lying beneath his feet (yes, almost an after-thought). And by 'love' I mean 'detest'.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 72 posts Report

  • Dave Dobbyn,


    Omnishambles is a perfect word for the flags debacle.
    I've found myself deeply irritated through the non-process of it's farcical gaudiness. The irritation turns to anger at the thought of the $26 million bill for what I hope will play out to be a giant failure. In light of our child poverty tragedy, and Pharmac's denial of life for cancer sufferers, and our appalling violence stats, it speaks volumes that tax payers have been press-ganged into funding this flaggy indulgence at the expense of the much needed social policy change that has to come about before we bother to redefine ourselves emblematically.

    The 'Lonely Sperm In The Pacific' design had me in fits and sums up the mediocrity rife throughout the on-going fiasco.

    New Zealand • Since Jul 2014 • 6 posts Report

  • Bevan,

    I wanted Red Peak and didn't rank the others. I'm thinking of abstaining in the second ballot. I don't want the current colonial flag but neither do I want the Weetbix flag.
    I won't be celebrating the result either way.

    Although if the vote is no change, there may be little public appetite for another attempt later on.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2013 • 17 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Bevan,

    I want the Weetbix flag.

    and the promise of bricks with plenty of fibre and great with lashings of butter...
    ;- )

    ...another attempt later on..

    I still can't see the point of changing the references to the monarchy/colonial past when we still have to have approval of the Queen's representative to make Law - once the whole system changes then it makes sense to change the identifying symbol to reflect this - anything earlier is misleading rebranding - bit like Nurofen© really...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Ian Dalziel,


    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    A couple of random thoughts.

    For those people poking fun at the flags that lost this vote and at those people who voted for them I have nothing but contempt. The people that voted are all New Zealanders, that they have an opinion about a flag that differs from the one that won this vote is not a reason to point at them and shout losers. That says more about the person shouting than anything else.

    I was disappointed that we had this flag vote now and even more disappointed at the process. I'm left feeling it is all some kind of giant pissing post for our PM built with our taxes.

    I was disappointed with the lack of imagination shown by the flag panel, not surprised given their set of skills. It's hard to imagine a group of people with fewer credentials in creating design or visual art.

    I was disappointed that we are still focused on a flag in the style of the 17th century. Back then brightly coloured and distinctively patterned pennants had a purpose and were designed for that purpose. A 21st century flag has a different purpose and should be designed for this century with this century's technology and needs.

    I am deeply saddened by how divisive this process has been allowed to become. There will be people angry about the result no matter which way it goes, mostly because the process was never designed to try and be inclusive.

    And yes finally I'm disappointed that we have a choice between a clipart logo and a colonial remnant - see that's me deriding the choice of a whole bunch of people - that's how badly this process was managed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Wired magazine are in favour of the Lockwood flag from a design point of view.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report

  • George Darroch, in reply to Jeremy Andrew,

    It looks like a fairly superficial article to me. She seems to have put as much deep thinking into it as the Flag Consideration Panel.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Bevan,

    If you're concerned about the process, can I urge you, instead of abstaining, to vote against Weetbix (and unfortunately, that means for the incumbent flag) so that at least we don't have to go through the further expense of actually rebranding everything for little real purpose.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Keir Leslie,

    (from Wired:) "architect Kyle Lockwood" -- that's libelling architects there! He's an architectural designer...

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I am deeply saddened by how divisive this process has been allowed to become. There will be people angry about the result no matter which way it goes, mostly because the process was never designed to try and be inclusive.

    As I have said before, we need this binding referendum to have at least a 75% decision. Otherwise we will see Father against Son, brother against brother if it goes 49% to 51%. it will be purely divisive.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Steve Barnes,


    Civil War I reckon. It’s just about to boil over. Weetabix Kids vs Redcoats.

    I’m off to Machine Gun City to get me one of those cheap AKs they’ve been advertising. Reckon my gun license will be ok:

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Steve Todd,

    Despite saying to Jason Kemp, I'd "leave it that", there has been little or no discussion of art and design since my last post on Monday, so I’ve decided to respond to some of the comments that have been made over the last 48 hours. But first—

    To mpledger—

    I agree the process concerning the choice of options was not good, but, whether good or bad, whenever you have a number of options to rank-order, it would be extremely unlikely that they would all attract a roughly equal number of backers. It can happen when a political party puts up several candidates in a party column in a multi-seat STV election (e.g. Tasmania), and the names are randomised/rotated, thereby helping to even out the allocation of preferences, but unlikely here. In this case, no matter how good the various designs might have been, some would have appealed, some wouldn’t have.

    Also, it is doubtful that one flag would “run away with it.” That implies that one flag would be “everyone’s second preference”. Although that concept is beloved of opponents of PV / STV, and social choice theorists (particularly those in US academia), it is just as unlikely in practice, in my view, as a particular flag being everyone’s first choice, or everyone’s third choice, etc.

    To izogi and Rich of Observationz—

    The votes were pre-processed (by being scanned) as they were received throughout the three-week voting period (see section 42 of the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act 2000). After 7 p.m. on the 11th, they were sent to the STV Calculator, which produced the preliminary result. So, the electronic preference data is there, and could be extracted. Everything is kept for 6 months, then destroyed (section 40(2) of the New Zealand Flag Referendums Act 2015).

    I reckon, of those who voted for Black Lockwood, 80% or thereabouts would have given their second preference for Red Lockwood, and vice versa. I would love to know the real percentages. Eric Crampton, Head of Research at The New Zealand Initiative in Wellington, is putting in an OIA request, to test whether the Electoral Commission can lawfully invoke section 50(1) of the Act, to withhold electronic preference data. The wording seems pretty clear to me – we are never going to know anything more than what we know now.

    To Hilary Stace—

    How you choose to vote in local elections is entirely your business, of course, but I always recommend people rank as many candidates (in their true order of preference) as they genuinely can. If, for example, there is one seat left to fill, and two candidates remaining, both of whom I dislike, I will still indicate a preference for one of them over the other, if I can (and, except in DHB elections, I always can), to ensure my vote has as much say as to the make-up of council as possible. If, by ranking as many candidates as I can, my vote can help make the council, say, not-too-bad rather than bad, then I’ve done myself a favour.

    To Rich of Observationz—

    As I have said previously, I ranked Red Peak at No. 5. I could have left it blank (which is indeed equivalent), but actually putting the 5 under that flag was my protest at it being included in the list of options.

    I know you will know this, but I’ll give my reasoning anyway. Basically, a vote cannot transfer to a last-ranked option / candidate, when in single-winner or multi-winner elections / referendums, because the count stops as soon as the winner(s) is / are found. Take the case of those voters who ranked Red Lockwood 4 and Black Lockwood (the eventual winner) 5. When Red Peak’s votes were distributed 57,631 to BL and 48,396 to RL, putting BL past 50%, the count terminated. While RL was then formally excluded from the count and BL was declared the winner, the fifth preferences for BL on RL’s voting papers were not transferred to BL, because there was no need to do so – BL already had the required 50%+ of the votes.

    To izogi—

    “So Lockwood/Black might have won by combining second-third-forth preferences of the alternatives, but theoretically another of the alternatives might have overtaken it if second prefs of Lockwood/Red had been attributed to its first prefs.”

    But no circumstances could possibly arise whereby Red Lockwood could be excluded from the count before the three that were. If the counting system had incorporated pairwise counting, to ensure the Condorcet candidate (if there was one, which there was – Black Lockwood) was found, it could have shown another flag (say, Red Peak) beating Black Lockwood, but that would break the golden rule of preferential voting – later preferences can never harm earlier preferences. The Red Lockwood voters would not have indicated a second (or later) preference for Red Peak if those preferences were going to be used to defeat Red Lockwood. And, as I’ve said elsewhere, we would then be back to FPP.

    You’re right, there is no perfect voting system, but there are none better than PV/STV.

    “My own view is that I might as well rank all options according to the order I'd actually prefer them, unless I genuinely don't have a preference between them.”

    That’s exactly my view, too.

    To tussock—

    “Obviously we should run a count that finds the Condorcet winner if there is one, but STV will find the Condorcet winner in almost all real single-winner elections anyway.”

    Absolutely not. See my reply to izogi, immediately above.

    Of course, because we will never know the second and later preferences sitting in behind the first-preference votes for Red Lockwood, we cannot be 100% certain that Black Lockwood is the Condorcet winner, but we can be 99.99% certain – well, I can. As I say, above, it is almost certain that the overwhelming majority of Lockwood first-preference voters would have given their second-preference for the other Lockwood. Therefore, Black Lockwood (which defeated Red Lockwood in a pairwise count) would almost certainly have beaten all the other options in a pairwise count, as well.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report

  • izogi, in reply to Steve Todd,

    Hi Steve. Thanks for the comprehensive info and reasonings.

    Eric Crampton, Head of Research at The New Zealand Initiative in Wellington, is putting in an OIA request, to test whether the Electoral Commission can lawfully invoke section 50(1) of the Act, to withhold electronic preference data. The wording seems pretty clear to me – we are never going to know anything more than what we know now.

    Ah, okay. I hadn’t noticed that clause in the Flag Referendums Act. From your tone, does that mean there’s already precedent for 50(A) to take priority over the OIA if tested in court? When reading the OIA I can’t see any specific clause which allows a request for info to be refused on the grounds that another Act of Parliament says it can’t be released. (It seems surprising the Select Committee didn’t address this apparent inconsistency, though.)

    You’re right, there is no perfect voting system, but there are none better than PV/STV.

    I won’t argue with the merits of STV/PV. I also think it’s probably the best system we have for as long as people can be convinced to trust it, which is critical in a functioning democracy. I’ll take it any day over FPP. I’m still not convinced that it’s perfect in all scenarios, though. If the voting populace is polarised in certain ways, then it can still reach an outcome where there’s a strong argument that it’s not the intuitively best option.

    If, for example, option Z were the second option for every single voter, and so is eliminated immediately because everyone’s first preferences were evenly split between 25 alternatives, then there’s a reasonable argument that option Z could have been a compromise more acceptable for all voters. Instead of choosing Z which 100% of people wanted second, PV results in a choice which 4% wanted first, but 96% wanted third or later. If it were STV and electing ten options of 26, then the second option of every single voter still gets left out of the chosen ten because it was completely eliminated at the first round of counting.

    That’s an extreme theoretical example, but comparable anomolies could probably still occur on occasion if the populace is polarised in certain ways before a vote. STV and PV aren’t necessarily good for choosing compromises which many people might find acceptable if they talked to each other, unless at least some people want it more than anything else right from the beginning.

    Anyway, I’m happy with the fairness of the referendum result (even if not the politics behind the referendum). My main gripe is with people declaring how other voters think without actually having real data to justify what they’re saying.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Steve Todd, in reply to izogi,

    Izogi, have a look at my exchange with Eric Crampton at his blog, about 5 weeks ago, following his op-ed in the Dom Post of Friday 6 November, and my letter in response, to the editor, of Monday 9 November, here: http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2015/11/condorcet-conundrums.html#disqus_thread.

    I lay out my case against Condorcet counting, but he never actually engaged with me, finally asking me a question which was nothing other than pretentious nonsense. I realised I was wasting my time, and let it slide.

    I'll think about your other questions / observations tomorrow.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report

  • izogi, in reply to Steve Todd,

    Hi Steve. Okay, I accept that a counting system which makes it possible for later preferences to override earlier preferences would not be feasible in practice because, it'd create an incentive for people to avoid ranking anything but their first option.

    I still think it's risky to make wide-ranging assertions about how voters must think when the actual data on that isn't available. (I've seen plenty of people who basically just assume that everyone thinks the same as those they know in their own little bubble.) On consideration, though, I can see that releasing that data might also mean that voters could change their preferences if they think a government may ignore the official result if later preferences suggested something else, and so perhaps that's a good reason for it to be witheld.

    I'll still be interested to see how the Flag Referendum Act interacts with OIA.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    That's really interesting, the way the OIA doesn't have an explicit clause for "information protected by another statute" and the language at s.50 " the use or disclosure is not required or permitted".

    The only *required* information is the result data that is published - but is anything outside that that doesn't identify a vote "permitted"?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • izogi, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    That’s really interesting, the way the OIA doesn’t have an explicit clause for “information protected by another statute” and the language at s.50 ” the use or disclosure is not required or permitted”.

    Also, would we want it to? I’d wonder if the principles of the OIA are so important that another Act of Parliament shouldn’t simply be able to override them with casual clauses saying “by the way don’t release any of this information”, at least without a specific consciously-made amendment to the OIA to validate what’s said in the other Act.

    This is me thinking as a layperson, though. The reasons stated in the OIA are clear and arguable reasons to be considered, on merit, for withholding information. The Flag Referendum Act doesn’t state a reason. It just says “don’t do it” without explaining why. It just doesn’t feel right in some way.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Steve Withers,

    I'll vote to change the flag. The proposed one is basically the same as the current one, except the Union Jack is swapped out and replaced by the black and white fern.

    Good enough™

    I'm for it.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 312 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Another voting option might be to elect an electoral college using a proportional system and then having the college choose a flag that meets with majority approval, calling for other designs if desired.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Steve Todd, in reply to izogi,

    Izogi, I implied I’d get back to you today. Here goes—

    (I’ve overdone it again, people. Sorry.)

    “From your tone, does that mean there’s already precedent for 50(A) to take priority over the OIA if tested in court?”

    Extremely unlikely. The Act has only been in force since 15 August. I was just expressing my opinion.

    I’ve had a quick look through the ‘Offenses’ provisions of the Electoral Act 1993 and the Local Electoral Act 2001, but could see no equivalent provision to that of section 50 “Unauthorised use or disclosure of referendum information” of the New Zealand Flag Referendums Act 2015.

    I’m no lawyer, but, as I say, the wording is very clear to me – preference data will not be released, regardless of (say) section 5 of the Official Information Act 1982. That section says, in part, “information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it.” Perhaps the presence of section 50 is good reason to withhold the release of preference data. Given Eric Crampton’s OIA request, perhaps time will tell.

    In this day and age, such data should automatically be made available online. It should also be in a format such that other people can take the information, run it through their own ‘STV Calculators’, and confirm the official result for themselves. If they want to use the data to carry out pairwise comparisons (which, in this case, might have revealed, amazingly, that the Condorcet winner was Red Peak), so what? Condorcet Pairwise Counting is not PV / STV. Condorcet counting can violate later-no-harm (and later-no-help); PV / STV cannot. And, as both tussock and I have pointed out, PV will almost always elect the Condorcet winner, if there is one, in any event (as it almost certainly did at this referendum).

    Given the importance of the flag referendums process to the government, it is possible that section 50 was inserted specifically to ensure that no-one could take the preference data and use it to undermine the official result of the referendum, by showing that PV produced the “wrong” winner (we know it produced the right winner, as it always, without exception, does) / embarrass the government. It was in the original bill, so it was not inserted as a result of submissions received.

    I realise you have conceded that Condorcet counting “would not be feasible in practice”, but I’ll give you my thoughts, anyway.

    “Option Z is the second choice of every single voter, and so is eliminated immediately.”

    And rightly so, in my view. Why should option Z win the election when no-one, using their *single* vote (which is transferable) voted for it? No other electoral system in use in public elections anywhere in the world sets out to find, and elect, a compromise candidate (if there is one). FPP certainly doesn’t. Why should PV / STV be required to do so?

    The purpose of elections is to enable people to elect their representatives, not to arbitrarily discard candidates who “stand for something” in favour of *compromise* candidates. Imagine if your scenario were able to be played out.

    On the six o’clock news next October, a po-faced Wendy Petrie informs the nation that candidate Z, who received not one single vote, out of 60,000 votes cast, nevertheless romped home to win the Wellington mayoral election.

    When asked if s/he was embarrassed by his / her win, s/he replied, “Not in the least. Why should I be?”

    “Um, well, no-one actually voted for you.”

    “Ha! Votes, shmotes. Fortunately, our voting system is so robust, so flexible, it was able to reveal and give expression to the collective view of the good people of Wellington, that I was the only candidate qualified to take this great little city into the amazing future that awaits it.”

    (NB. No suggestion, and certainly no admission, that s/he was merely the “compromise” candidate.)

    Our shocked – and now formerly intrepid – reporter shuffles off, shaking his / her head in stunned amazement.

    In 2018, the council would vote 14–1 to return to FPP for the 2019 and 2022 elections.

    “My main gripe is with people declaring how other voters think without actually having real data to justify what they’re saying.”

    Speaking for myself, it is just my opinion that around 80% of the Lockwood voters would have given their second preferences to the other Lockwood. It just seems entirely logical to me that that would be the case. I’m certainly not “making a wide-ranging assertion”, about how voters think.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report

  • Mick Rose,

    Mea culpa: I’m willing to wear Matthew Hooton’s “Elitist” badge.

    I think large numbers of NZers have very poor taste in their choice of flag design and their choice of Prime Minister. Further, I think there are robust, non-arbitrary, criteria by which aesthetic merit and ethical behaviour can be reckoned and that the Lockwood flag designs and John Key as PM score very poorly on those metrics.

    But … I’m also prepared for John Key’s favoured design to triumph and not greatly concerned about it. It’ll be a fitting, but relatively short-lived reminder of his reign. History won’t be kind to John Key – he’s too clearly up to his neck in dirty politicking and scungy behaviour. He’s this generation’s Nixon or Muldoon.

    Let’s go through this process again properly one or two decades down the track when we have a PM who can help pull us together as a nation; not one who helps pull us apart.

    Since Oct 2010 • 7 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    In the Weekend herald today, John Roughan marches, as ever, to the beat of a different drum.

    When the voting papers arrived I was still of a mind to ignore them. Key had gone about the exercise completely the wrong way, to my mind. It had ended in an offering of amateur designs selected by a panel of amateurs.

    Then there was Red Peak, which wasn’t a flag. Nice abstract art but not a flag.

    It was Red Peak that made me vote. I had believed social media to be a serious reflection of public opinion. I had to do what I could.

    We clearly have a different idea of what flags look like.

    His concluding paragraph:

    Few national flags probably had the wow-factor when first conceived. We need a new flag, the old one looks even more dated now than it did last week. The chosen alternative may be an amateurish pastiche of the old and new but it is the way we are. It is recognisably us. It will do fine.

    I almost have to admire that candour: "The Lockwood flag – it's a bit shit, but then so are we."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Russell Brown,

    “The Lockwood flag – it’s a bit shit, but then so are we.”

    New more honest Tourism slogan?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

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