New Zealand flag debate
New Zealand has a history of debate over whether the national flag should be changed. For several decades, alternative designs have been proposed with varying degrees of support. There is no consensus among proponents of changing the flag as to which design should replace the flag. Unlike in Australia, the flag debate in New Zealand is independent of any debate on a republic.
A two-stage binding referendum on a flag change is planned to take place in 2015 and 2016, with alternative flag options yet to be decided.
- 1 Arguments
- 2 History of debate
- 3 Referenda
- 4 Opinion polling
- 5 Proposals
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Arguments for change
Proponents for change argue that:
- The national flag is too similar to the flag of Australia and the two are often confused. In 1984, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was greeted by New Zealand flags when visiting Ottawa.
- As a defaced Blue Ensign, the national flag alludes to New Zealand being a colony or sub-part of the United Kingdom.
- The national flag ignores New Zealand's Māori heritage and other ethnic groups.
- The current flag does not resonate emotionally with New Zealanders, compared to the pride invested in national flags in other countries.
Arguments against change
Opponents to change argue that:
- The national flag has "stood the test of time".
- The national flag represents New Zealand's historically strong ties to the United Kingdom; and the history of the country as a part of the British Empire and location in the southern hemisphere.
- Proposals focus too much on Māori and Pacific designs when most of New Zealand's heritage was Anglo-Saxon and Celtic.
- Generations of New Zealanders have fought and died under it. (Although the first time the Flag of New Zealand was flown in battle was from the HMS Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.)
History of debate
Debate on keeping or changing the New Zealand Flag started before May 1973, when a remit to change the flag was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference. In November 1979 the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet, suggested that the design of the flag should be changed, and sought an artist to design a new flag with a silver fern on the fly. The proposal attracted little support.
The New Zealand Listener magazine held a flag design contest in 1989, attracting nearly 600 entries. Out of the seven semi-finalists, which included the national flag and the United Tribes Flag, the national flag won with a minority vote of 45.6%.
In February 1992 the former Minister of Maori Affairs, Matiu Rata, called for a flag change "to re-establish our national identity".
In 1998, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for the flag to be changed. Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, supported the quasi-national silver fern flag, using a white silver fern on a black background, along the lines of the Canadian maple leaf flag.
Both of these events were met with opposition from the Returned Services' Association.
In 2004, the NZ Flag.com Trust was founded by Lloyd Morrison with the aim of bringing about a non-binding referendum on the subject. Under New Zealand law, a referendum may be held on any issue if 10% of electors sign a petition which is presented to Parliament. The Trust launched their petition for such a referendum in 2005. Their campaign used a stylised silver fern flag designed by Cameron Sanders.
In response to the petition, the New Zealand Flag Institute was founded to oppose the referendum campaign and promote the current flag, as well as to offer a more scholarly view of the flag. The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RNZRSA), the New Zealand organisation for war veterans, did not openly back the current flag at its annual conference, passing a remit that "It is the view of RNZRSA that any change to the New Zealand Flag should be solely the prerogative of the people of New Zealand as determined by a substantial majority of electors in a referendum. It is also the Association's view that this matter should be taken out of the political arena."
The petition attracted 100,000 signatures out of the required approximately 270,000 and was withdrawn in July 2005, well before the general election in September. The NZ Flag.com Trust cited public apathy to change as the main reason for withdrawing the petition.
Later in March, Key announced that New Zealand would hold a referendum within the next three years asking whether or not to change the flag design should the National party be re-elected for a third term. Following National's re-election the details of the referendum were announced.
A two-stage binding referendum is planned to take place in 2015 and 2016, after public consultation and input. The process is expected to cost $25.7 million.
Shortly after announcing the referendum, party leaders were invited to a Cross-Party Group. So far the group includes Bill English, David Seymour and Peter Dunne. The purpose of the Cross-Party Group is to review draft legislation allowing for the referenda to take place, and to nominate candidates for a Flag Consideration Panel by mid February 2015.
The Flag Consideration Panel will be a separate group of "respected New Zealanders" with representative age, regional, gender and ethnic demographics. Their purpose will be to publicise the process, seek flag submissions and suggestions from the public, and to decide on a final shortlist of 3-4 suitable options for the first referendum. Public consultation is expected to take place between May and August 2015. 
The first referendum is planned to be held in November or December 2015. It will ask the public to choose from a list of options including the Flag Consideration Panel's shortlist and the current flag. The voting process may be ranked or first past the post, pending decision from the Cross-Party Group.
The second referendum is planned for April 2016. It will be a run-off between the preferred alternative design from the first referendum and the current flag. The Cross-Party Group may decide to cancel the second referendum in the event that a single design gains over 50% of votes in the first referendum.
Results and implications
The referenda results are legally binding. However, upon event of a flag change, the current flag will still be legal to fly and will only be replaced once worn out. This result would also not change the coat of arms, national Māori flag, the flag of the Cook Islands or the flag of Niue, nor the police and fire service flags which are based on the current flag. It has not been stated how a change would affect the Red Ensign, Civil Ensign, RNZAF flag or Civil Air Ensign, which are also based on the current flag.
Two-option public polls
|Date||Conducted by||For change||Against change||Undecided||Notes|
|March 2014||New Zealand Herald||40.6%||52.6%||6.8%||Sample size was 750. When presented with specific design options, a plurality of 42.9% preferred the silver fern.|
|February 2014||TVNZ||28%||72%||0%||The poll also found that only 2% thought that changing the flag was an important issue.|
|2010||New Zealand Herald||52.3%||44.4%||3.3%||When presented with specific design options, a majority of 52.5% preferred the silver fern.|
|2009||New Zealand Herald||25%||62%||13%|||
Silver fern flag
The silver fern flag is a popular unofficial flag of New Zealand. The silver fern itself is a quasi-national emblem with current and historic usage including:
- The coat of arms of New Zealand
- The New Zealand one-dollar coin
- The Silver Ferns, New Zealand's national netball team
- The All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team
- New Zealand Army Second Division military insignia
- New Zealand military insignia during the South African War (1899–1902)
- All tombstones of fallen New Zealand soldiers maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission contain a silver fern symbol
- New Zealand athletes competing in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics
- The NZ Flag.com Trust in their 2005 campaign
The proposal of replacing the national flag of New Zealand with the silver fern flag has been supported by Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and the New Zealand Tourism Board in 1998, and current Prime Minister John Key in 2010. Amongst the public, polls have shown that the silver fern is the most preferred alternative design for a new national flag.
However, the New Zealand Flag Institute criticises the silver fern as the logo of some of New Zealand's sporting teams rather than the country itself. Also, vexillologist Tom Burton raised concerns about possible confusion with the flag of the Islamic State.
|James Busby||1834||The United Tribes Flag was the national flag of New Zealand when it first declared independence in 1835, until the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.|
|Friedensreich Hundertwasser||1983||The koru flag, represents an uncurling fern frond in the form of a stylised koru, a traditional Māori carving pattern. This flag is occasionally seen around the country.|
|James Dignan||2002||This proposal was displayed in the New Zealand Herald on 9 May 2002, at the time of the centenary of the current flag. It combines elements from the national flag, the Tino rangatiratanga flag and the silver fern flag. This combination looked to links with both the United Kingdom and Polynesia.|
|Kyle Lockwood||2004||This proposal won a Wellington newspaper flag competition in July 2004 and appeared on TV3 in 2005 after winning a poll which included the present national flag. The fern represents the people of New Zealand and the Southern Cross represents the location of New Zealand. The blue represents the ocean, the red represents the Māori and wartime sacrifices, and white represents the "land of the long white cloud" epithet.|
|Helen Clark||2007||Helen Clark made her proposal while Prime Minister of New Zealand. She said that deleting the Union Jack from the New Zealand flag was a possibility if people wanted to redesign the flag, leaving it as a "rather attractive Southern Cross."|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Proposed national flags of New Zealand.|
- For change
- Against change
- For no flag