New Zealand to vote on changing its national flag within three years
Associated Press in Wellington
New Zealanders will soon get to vote on whether to change their national flag, which many view as a relic of its colonial past.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced plans to hold a referendum within three years. His political opponents said they would follow through with the plan if they ousted Key in this year's national elections.
The current flag depicts the Southern Cross star constellation and includes Britain's Union Jack in the top left corner. Many complain it is too similar to Australia's flag and does not reflect New Zealand's independence from former coloniser Britain.
Many who have served in the military oppose a change. Among those advocating a change, there is plenty of debate about a replacement.
Key said he favoured a silver fern set against a black background, an image that is popular among sports teams.
In a speech, Key said the current flag represented a past era. "The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom," he said.
"We should be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand's," said Key, adding it would not signify an end to the South Pacific nation's constitutional ties to the British monarchy.
Don McIver, president of the Returned and Services Association, said he was proud of a flag that represented more than 100 years of tradition.
"The view of the RSA is there is no need to change the flag," he said. "Thirty-two thousand New Zealanders have given their lives under the flag and many more thousands have served under it in a combat environment."
The Republican Movement of New Zealand, which advocates an end to recognising the British monarch as New Zealand's head of state, remains indifferent.
"We realise there is momentum to change the flag. We are not against it," said the movement's chairman, who goes by the single name Savage.