New Zealand plans flag change vote
Published 11/03/2014 | 01:47
New Zealand prime minister John Key has announced plans for a referendum on whether to change the national flag.
He said he wants a nationwide vote in the next three years.
The nation's current flag depicts the Southern Cross star constellation in red and includes Britain's Union Jack flag in the top left corner.
Many complain the flag is too similar to Australia's and does not reflect New Zealand's independence from its former coloniser, Britain.
Some want to keep the flag while others debate the best replacement.
Mr Key has said he favours a silver fern set against a black background, but opponents say that would associate the flag too much with sports teams, which often use it, and is too reminiscent of a pirate ensign.
Many who have served in the military oppose a change, while among those wanting a new flag, many argue the country's indigenous Maori should be represented.
Mr Key said: "The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom."
He said Canada's 1965 decision to embrace a distinctive maple leaf design was a good example, and he could not imagine Canadians wanting to go back to their old Union Jack flag.
"We should be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand's," said Mr Key, adding it would not signify an end to the South Pacific nation's constitutional ties to the British monarchy or participation in the Commonwealth group of countries.
Don McIver, president of the Returned and Services Association (RSA), said he is proud of a flag that represents more than 100 years of tradition.
"The view of the RSA is there is no need to change the flag," he said. "Thirty-two thousand New Zealanders have given their lives under the flag and many more thousands have served under it in a combat environment."
The Republican Movement of New Zealand, which advocates an end to recognising the British monarch as New Zealand's head of state, remains indifferent.
"We realise there is momentum to change the flag, and we are not against it," said the movement's chairman, who goes by the single name Savage. "But the substance is changing the head of state. It's symbolic only to change the flag."
Yet for many, a new flag would represent another small step by New Zealand toward disentangling itself from its British past. In 2004, for instance, the country established a Supreme Court to replace Britain's Privy Council as the final court of appeal.
Recent opinion polls have given conflicting indications about whether a majority favours a change.
Victor Gizzi, the national sales manager at flag manufacturer Flagmakers, said older people "tend to want the status quo", while younger people feel differently.