Patriotism or Politics? New Zealand PM Considers a New Flag


Farewell, Union Jack? If New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has his way, the symbol of the British Empire will vanish from the country’s flag, replaced with a design chosen by Kiwi citizens.

Key announced last week that, if his center-right National Party is again victorious in September’s general election, his government would hold a referendum on the issue within three years.

“I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of a modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a flag,” Key said during a speech at Victoria University on Tuesday. “This decision is bigger than party politics.”

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The opposition Labor Party, while agreeing to the potential flag vote, seemed to disagree with Key’s assertion that politics aren’t the motivating force behind it. Labor leader David Cunliffe accused Key of political posturing, describing the move as “a ploy to solidify support ahead of the election and distract from other issues such as the country’s rising income inequality.”

Many welcomed the idea of a flag that could symbolize New Zealand’s contemporary national identity – while also cutting ties with its colonial past.

“Flags are more than pretty patchworks. Flags are symbols of identity. New Zealand’s flag represents a country that no longer exists: the ‘Britain of the South Pacific,’” wrote Morgan Godfery, a Wellington-based writer and expert on Indigenous issues. “Auckland is home to over 200 ethnic groups and is considered more diverse than London or Sydney. Open markets, relaxed regulations and proximity to emerging economies in Asia have transformed New Zealand from a protectionist agricultural economy – reliant on privileged access to Britain – to a globalized economy.”

“Indigenous rights, multiculturalism and economic reform: this is the infrastructure of change,” Godfery added. “But the symbols of change haven’t caught up.”

While it could be years before New Zealand adopts an updated flag, concerns have already been raised over proposed designs. One such design, backed by Key, features a silver fern on a black background – for some, a bit too reminiscent of the All Blacks national rugby team’s flag.

Stuff Nation asked readers to share their opinions about what a reimagined flag should look like. Many submissions included combinations of the Southern Cross and the iconic fern branch.

“Although the Union Jack has no place on our flag, I feel that any new design must maintain the Southern Cross,” wrote one contributor. “Generations of Kiwis have grown up under the stars, and it will always resonate because of its reference to our physical location. It represents our place in the world, and a unity between nations of the South Pacific.”

Others disagreed that the flag needed to be changed in the first place, citing economic concerns.

“How much will it cost this country to change the flag? Thousands? More like millions,” wrote another contributor. “Why should we waste so much money that we could otherwise spend on things such as healthcare and education?”

Even if Key’s party remains in control come September, it’s unclear whether or not the public will rally behind a new flag. A recent poll showed that only 28 percent of Kiwis were in favor of the measure.

In neighboring Australia, another Commonwealth nation that flies the Union Jack, there appears to be “no great demand” to cut out the top-left corner of the flag.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, while visiting the U.K., told the BBC that Australia would “stick with” the current flag, stating that “there’s a sense of pride in it.”

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