NEW Zealand may vote next year on changing its flag, newly re-elected prime minister John Key said yesterday, as the country looks to assert an identity independent of colonial ties to Britain.
Mr Key’s centre-right government was returned for a third three-year term on Saturday in a resounding win, promising to continue steady economic management and controls on spending, and possible tax cuts in three years.
Asked about his promise of a referendum on a change of flag, Mr Key said he wanted it to be the subject of a referendum next year, including finding an alternative and then putting that up against the current flag.
“I’m obviously a big supporter of the change, I think there are a lot of strong arguments in favour of the change,” he said.
“I’d like that issue dealt with in 2015. I’d like to complete the whole process next year.
I don’t think it’s one of those things we should hang around with forever. New Zealanders either need to decide yes or no.”
However, despite his support for a new flag, Mr Key favours maintaining ties with Britain’s monarchy.
He has previously said he wants a flag that is uniquely New Zealand in character which would be recognisable around the world.
The current flag was adopted at the start of the 20th century. It features the Union Flag in the top-left corner, plus the four main stars of the Southern Cross in red bordered with white, all on a blue background. It is often confused with the similar Australian flag.
Mr Key has acknowledged there would be strong arguments to retain the current design – a group representing returned soldiers has been a vocal opponent of change, saying the move would disrespect those who had fought and died defending the flag.
Mr Key has backed a new design of a silver fern on a black background. New Zealand’s national sports teams, including the All Blacks rugby team, often compete under a silver fern motif – the national netball team is even named the Silver Ferns – and the country’s carrier, Air New Zealand, has put it on the tailfins of its planes.
The black-and-silver-fern design was also used for the official kit of New Zealand’s athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow earlier this year.
However, a poll in February revealed that 72 per cent of New Zealanders wanted to keep the current flag.
Mr Key’s centre-right National Party won 48 per cent of the vote in provisional results from Saturday’s election, giving it a third term in office and an outright majority in parliament.
Mr Key said other priorities for his upcoming term include continuing to grow the economy, enacting changes to the education system, and getting people off welfare and into work.
The election result was disastrous for the liberal Labour Party, which won just 25 per cent of the vote, its worst showing in more than 90 years.