New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he’ll initiate a process to change the country’s flag if he wins a third term in September elections.
The current flag symbolizes “a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed,” Key said in a speech in Wellington today. “The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.”
The current flag, which is very similar to Australia’s, features the stars of the Southern Cross and the U.K.’s Union Jack. It was legally introduced in 1902, 62 years after the Treaty of Waitangi brought New Zealand into the British Empire. The South Pacific nation ceased to be a British colony in 1907.
“The current flag represents the thinking by and about a young country moving from the 1800s to the 1900s,” Key, 52, said. “We should be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand’s; a flag that is only New Zealand’s; a flag that is readily identified by New Zealanders and with New Zealanders. The current flag is not that flag.”
He said Canada dropped the Union Jack from its flag in 1965 in favor of the maple leaf, a “striking symbol of modern Canada” that he likened to the New Zealand silver fern worn today by many of the country’s sports teams and athletes.
“I admit to liking the silver fern but I’m also open to other ideas and designs,” he said. “We want a design that says ‘New Zealand’ in the same way that the maple leaf says ‘Canada,’ or the Union Jack says ‘Britain,’ without a word being spoken, or a bar of those countries’ anthems being heard.”
Key, who yesterday set Sept. 20 as the election date, said if he is returned to office he will form a cross-party group of parliamentarians to recommend the best way to hold a public vote on changing the flag and new designs.
It would look at the questions that needed to be asked in a referendum and ensure the public is engaged in the debate, he said, adding he’d like the entire process to be completed in the next three-year parliamentary term, before 2017 elections.