Key wants referendum on new flag before 2017

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014

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The flying of the New Zealand flag at half mast during next year's Anzac Day 100-year anniversary commemorations at Gallipoli could start the countdown toward its replacement with a new design.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key stepped back from holding a referendum on the flag at the September 20 election, but promised to hold one before the 2017 election if National was re-elected.

Key labelled the current flag design of a Union Jack and Southern Cross a relic from New Zealand's colonial past.

"We want a design that says New Zealand, whether it's stitched on a Kiwi traveller's backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations or standing in a Wellington southerly on top of the Beehive every working day."

But Mr Key's opponents labelled the debate a distraction from more important issues like poverty because he announced it only a day after naming the election date.

The Returned and Services' Association said it would oppose any change.

National president Don McIver said 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."

Key said any referendum would not be held before next year's Anzac Day ceremony at Gallipoli, which marks 100 years since New Zealand and Australian forces landed at Anzac Cove.

"At dawn on April 25, 2015, here and on the Gallipoli Peninsula and at New Zealand diplomatic posts around the world we will lower to half mast the same flag under which our forefathers fought so valiantly, so far away, a hundred years ago," he said.

"I do not under-estimate the significance of the flag to New Zealand's servicemen and women and their families but being respectful of our history does not lock us permanently in the past."

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- The Dominion Post

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