Two-step flag referendum outlined by PM John Key

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:34 15/10/2014
Silver Fern flag
KYLE LOCKWOOD

PM's FAVOURITE: John Key says he has softened on his preference for a silver fern on black flag, instead supporting this design by Kyle Lockwood.

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The first of two referendums on changing New Zealand's flag could be held as early as next year, with a decision made in early 2016.

Prime Minister John Key used his address to the Returned Services Association (RSA) National Conference today, to lay out his case for a new Kiwi ensign.

Talking to media after the speech, he said he would be writing to the leaders of all other parties within four days to ask them to choose a representative to take part in a cross-party panel on the issue.

Key said he had received official advice that outlined a two-step referendum. It would see a public consultation period on possible designs.

The cross-party panel would likely pick the top three to five designs which would go to a referendum to pick the most preferred.

That would then be pitted against the current flag in a second referendum, where people would either vote to change or keep the status quo. 

That advice still had to be considered and voted on by committee, but Key said he hoped the first referendum could be held before the end of next year, with a final decision by April 2016.

He gave an assurance to RSA members that New Zealand's contributions to World War I would be recognised under the current flag at centenary commemorations in New Zealand and Gallipoli next year. 

Key would not support any change that undermined the role of the defence force, but he did not believe a new flag design would do that.

"If you got to any of the Commonwealth war graves [in Europe] what you actually see on the war graves is the silver fern. It's not the New Zealand flag. 

"When people say New Zealanders were buried under that flag, that's technically correct when the flag was on the coffin, but it's not true in terms of being on their headstones," Key said. 

"I would never support change if I thought it undermined the service and sacrifice of the brave New Zealanders who fought, died and defended this country. But that's actually not what I believe will take place if we change the flag."

The Prime Minister had softened his preference for a silver fern on a black background, saying it was unlikely to be a popular option.

He had swayed more toward a design by Kyle Lockwood, which retained New Zealand's current flag colours, with a Silver Fern and a southern cross. 

But the RSA has already lined up in opposition to a change of New Zealand's ensign. National president Don McIver said last year that a change should only happen with support from more than a simple majority.

"The symbolism on the flag makes sense to New Zealand with the Southern Cross, the blue of the ocean and with the Union Jack, which still represents our association with the Commonwealth. And it's iconic. New Zealand soldiers have served under it and New Zealanders have died under it."

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