As Kiwis, we all have the right to feel very lucky. New Zealand is a place of great cultural diversity and richness. Migrants from all over the world come to New Zealand to enjoy a peaceful, accepting and egalitarian lifestyle.
A key factor in New Zealand’s cultural success has been a willingness to embrace new ideas about equality very early. Indigenous relations are stronger in New Zealand than in any other colonised nation and we were the first country in the world to give women the vote.
In such a secular country, where the majority do not have strong religious views, having a national anthem that explicitly mentions one specific religion seems curiously old fashioned.
This is secular issue with real importance to our sense of national identity – to celebrate the rich variety of religious and cultural perspectives.
Since 1976, New Zealand’s national anthem has been the Christian hymn – ‘God Defend New Zealand’. Originally a Christian poem written by a Dunedin Freemason in the 1870s, it was given a melody shortly after that. However, more than 100 years passed before it was officially accepted as New Zealand’s national song. It currently holds the same status in this country as ‘God Save The Queen’.
Unlike the flag, which has a long history in our country, ‘God Defend New Zealand’ has no such heritage. If such a song were submitted as our national anthem today (only 34 years later) it would almost certainly be rejected on the basis of religious favouritism.
According to census statistics and trends, more than 40% of people in New Zealand do not identify with the Christian God. Their beliefs vary from agnostics and atheists to the devoutly faithful of a multitude of religious beliefs. As we move forward shaping our culture and identity, it is becoming even more important to hold strongly to our diverse and secular ideals.
In 2007, a government initiative was set in motion to ensure our diversity was embraced and protected. It was called the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, and it brings together any organisations taking practical steps to:
- Recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity of our society (diverse)
- Promote the equal enjoyment by everyone of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, regardless of race, colour, ethnicity or national origin (equal)
- Foster harmonious relations between diverse peoples (harmonious)
Diverse, equal and harmonious: those three words encapsulate what society in New Zealand should be. To demonstrate that no one would be left behind, the government publically state that New Zealand is a nation that has no official religion.
It is time for us to have our National Anthem changed.
It is time for us to have a song that represents all New Zealanders.
It is time for the New Zealand government to honour their own words and put no single faith ahead of other beliefs.