Time to change the flag. To what?

03:19, Jan 29 2014

Prime Minister John Key has floated the possibility of having a referendum to change New Zealand's flag.

He has confirmed the Government was considering putting the issue to the vote, and would discuss with Cabinet the possibility of holding a referendum.

While technically it was as simple as changing the legislation governing the flag, Key believed it should be voted on by New Zealanders.

"It's constitutional in my view, and constitutional matters have to be taken to the people," he said.

"So in principle, it'd have to be part of a referendum just like it was for MMP.

"Probably what we'll do is have a discussion with our senior ministers and say is there any appetite to progress that. If the answer is 'no' at this point then we'll park it up."


The prime minister said the public was "50/50" on the idea of a new flag.

"And I think it depends when you do it. If you asked the question right after the [rugby] World Cup, it might have been closer to 60/40 in favour."

He said even if people wanted to change the flag, there wasn't universal support for a single option to change to.

His preference was to see a silver fern on a black background.

Mana leader Hone Harawira said he wanted to see the Tino Rangatiratanga flag used.

"Its my personal choice, I love it," Harawira said.

"It's more reflective of our history, of our world, and it shows that were not just babies of Queen Victoria we are our own people, an independent naiton.

"If you see this flag at an All Blacks game in Twickenham or at the Olympics in Sochi or anywhere else you know it's us. When you see the New Zealand flag you're not sure whether Australia is playing.

"We need to get away from that and be more about us. It's not the defining issue of us as a people.

"I think New Zealanders need to get a sense of their own national identity."

Harawira also liked the idea of the silver fern but said the public should have input on any replacement.

But Harawira accused the prime minister of raising the flag issue to draw attention away from more important issues such as inequality in New Zealand.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said there was a need for change, centred on a growing sense of national identity, but if there was to be a discussion it should involve all New Zealanders, and Maori should be consulted.

He agreed the flag was too similar to Australia's: "Clearly people do get them confused ... but I don't think that is reason enough to change it." The silver fern should be one option but there should be widespread consultation.

National Cabinet Minister Steven Joyce refused to give his view on the flag but would "look forward to the discussion" on it.

Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley agreed New Zealanders should make the decision to change, while Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said it was up to New Zealanders.

"I'd love to see something that really reflected New Zealand," Bennett said.

"But I think we've got bigger things to worry about today, so we will get on with them."

Bennett said the issue got raised with politicians "quite a lot".

"People feel passionate about it, either way."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said he agreed the similarity between the New Zealand and Australian flags could be confusing for people at events like the Olympic games.

A referendum made sense but he did not believe the issue could be debated properly in the time remaining before the next election.

"It makes sense that people decide ... but I think we need more than eight months to find an alternative, if there is to be an alternative."

United Future leader Peter Dunne backed a flag change, and said it was not appropriate that New Zealand continued to fly a flag which included the Union Jack.

"I think what we've got at the moment is anachronistic," he said.

"I think it smacks of British imperialism and we've gven that away a long time ago, and I think we should have something that reflects our own identity."

He agreed with a silver fern but was not convinced about a black background.

Northland MP Mike Sabin said he liked the current flag.

"To me it's not a question ... I've got a view, other people have got a view, that's what referendums are about," he said.