New Zealand flag debate

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New Zealand flag debate

The national flag of New Zealand is a defaced Blue Ensign with four stars representing the Southern Cross.

New Zealand has a history of debate over whether the national flag should be changed. Unlike in Australia, the flag debate in New Zealand is independent of the republic debate – the New Zealand Republic states that "creating a republic does not require any change to the Treaty of Waitangi, flag or Commonwealth membership",[1] while NZFlag has stated that changing the flag "is not anti-royalist in any way".[2]

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.

On 11 March 2014, Prime Minister John 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.[3]

Arguments for change[edit]

Proponents for change argue that:

  • The national flag is too similar to the flag of Australia and the two are often confused.[4] In 1984, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was greeted by New Zealand flags when visiting Ottawa.[5][6]
  • As a defaced Blue Ensign, the national flag alludes to New Zealand being a colony or sub-part of the United Kingdom.[7]
  • The national flag ignores New Zealand's Māori heritage and other ethnic groups (although the national coat of arms does not).[8]

Arguments against change[edit]

Opponents to change argue that:

  • The national flag has "stood the test of time".[9]
  • The national flag represents New Zealand's historically strong ties to the United Kingdom;[10] and the history of the country as a part of the British Empire and location in the southern hemisphere.[11]
  • Proposals focus too much on Māori and Pacific designs when most of New Zealand's heritage was Anglo-Saxon and Celtic.[10][12]
  • Generations of New Zealanders have fought and died under it.[5]



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.[13] 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.[14]


In 1988, Minister of Foreign Affairs Russell Marshall made a call for a flag change, which also had little effect.[5]

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%.[5]


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.[10]

Both of these events were met with opposition from the Returned Services' Association.


In 2004, the NZ 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."[15]

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 Trust cited public apathy to change as the main reason for withdrawing the petition.[16]

A poll of public opinion 2009 suggested that 25% supported changing the design of the flag, whilst 62% were opposed.[17]


In early 2010, Prime Minister John Key publicly backed the silver fern flag as a replacement for the national flag.[18] Around the same time, the New Zealand Herald surveyed various political party leaders and the twenty two members of the Order of New Zealand, with the results showing an even split.[5]

Later, on 5 August, Labour list MP Charles Chauvel introduced a members Bill for a consultative commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag.[19]

In July 2013, a poll by TV3's The Vote program found 39% of respondents would keep the flag, 61% would change it.[20]

In January 2014, John Key floated the idea of a referendum on a new flag at the 2014 general election. His suggestion was that the public could choose between an alternative flag design decided by senior ministers in cabinet or the existing flag.[21] The proposal to change the flag received support, including at Waitangi Day celebrations.[22] However the proposal was also met with some opposition.[23] Although many New Zealanders hold an opinion on whether the flag should be changed or not, an opinion poll in February 2014 found that only two per cent of New Zealanders thought that changing the flag was an important issue.[24] Regarding actually changing the flag, an opinion poll in February 2014 found that 72% of New Zealanders wanted to retain the current flag.[25] On 11 March 2014, Key announced in a speech his intention to hold a referendum during the next parliamentary term on whether or not to adopt a new flag.[3][26] If held, this will constitute the third referendum in New Zealand within the past five years, following the New Zealand voting system referendum, 2011 and New Zealand asset sales referendum, 2013.


The silver fern flag is sometimes flown next to the current flag of New Zealand.

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 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,[10] and current Prime Minister John Key in 2010.[18]

The New Zealand Flag Institute, as part of their campaign in support of the current flag, criticises the silver fern as the logo of some of New Zealand's sporting teams rather than the country itself.[12]

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's proposal, 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.[34]

James Dignan's 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 both looked back to traditional links with the United Kingdom and forward to New Zealand's current place as a Polynesian cultural centre.[35][36]

Kyle Lockwood's 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.[37] The fern represents the people of New Zealand and the stars represent 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.[38]

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."[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New Zealand Republic". Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  2. ^ "New Zealand Flag Change Not Anti-Royalist". Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  3. ^ a b Chapman, Paul (11 March 2014). "New Zealand to hold referendum on changing to 'post-colonial' flag". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Brian Sweeney (February 2004). "Eight Reasons To Change The New Zealand Flag". NZ Trust. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Calls for a new New Zealand flag". NZ History Online. 2011-01-10. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  6. ^ "Monarchists Prove Case for Australian Flag Change". Ausflag. 
  7. ^ "New Zealand Heritage and Identity - Flags". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  8. ^ "Have Your Say". NZ Trust. February 2004. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  9. ^ Paul Chapman (28 January 2005). "Campaigners want British link removed from New Zealand flag". The Telegraph. 
  10. ^ a b c d John Moody. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand's Flag". The XIX International Congress of Vexillology. 
  11. ^ David Round (2 April 2005). "Colours of our rich inheritance". The Press. 
  12. ^ a b "Why the Flag Should Not Change". New Zealand Flag Institute. 2005. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  13. ^ John Moody. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand’s Flag". New Zealand Flag Association. 
  14. ^ "New Zealand - Proposals for a new flag". Flags of the World. 29 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  15. ^ "Annual Conference 2005: Remits". Royal New Zealand Returned Services' Association. 16 July 2005. 
  16. ^ "Editorial: Fervour for the flag carries the day". New Zealand Herald. 4 August 2005. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  17. ^ Chapman, Paul (4 February 2010). "New Zealand debates dropping British flag from national ensign". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  18. ^ a b "Flag debate: John Key favours silver fern". New Zealand Herald. 8 February 2010. 
  19. ^ "Bill advocates consultative debate on new flag". 5 August 2010. 
  20. ^ "The Vote: The result". 16 July 2013. 
  21. ^ Davison, Isaac (30 January 2014). "Key suggests vote on New Zealand flag". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  22. ^ "Flag change in the wind". Radio New Zealand News. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  23. ^ Beech, James (4 February 2014). "Opinions vary on changing NZ flag". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ "New Zealand to hold referendum on new, ‘post-colonial’ flag". The Guardian. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  27. ^ "Coat of arms". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  28. ^ "New Zealand Coinage Specifications". Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  29. ^ "Silver Ferns". Netball New Zealand. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  30. ^ "All Blacks". All Blacks. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  31. ^ "Digger History: Badges of New Zealand". 1915-11-09. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  32. ^ 1980 Moscow Olympics boycott NZ
  33. ^ "A New Flag". NZ Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  34. ^ "Hundertwasser koru flag". Ministry of Culture and Heritage. 25 May 2011. 
  35. ^ "Flags of the World - Flag of New Zealand". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  36. ^ "James Dignan - flag articles". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  37. ^ "Campbell Live Flag Poll". TV3. 8 April 2005. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  38. ^ "Silver Fern Flag - Our Design". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  39. ^ "Clark stimulates flag debate with call to rub out Union Jack". New Zealand Herald. 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 

External links[edit]

For change
Against change