New Zealand vote on Union Jack flag has started


A referendum is underway in New Zealand to decide on what should be the country’s national flag. New Zealanders will choose between the long-established version which bears the Union Jack of the United Kingdom and a new national emblem based on the indigenous silver fern.

More than two million voting packs have been sent out to voters and a binding decison will be declared in three weeks on 24 March.

The first stage of the New Zealand flag referendum debate took place in December when people were asked to choose a potential replacement design. Five new flag designs were presented to the public, having been whittled down from 10,000 public submissions. The winner would go up against the classic version.

1.5 million votes were cast in December and the winning pennant was by architect Kyle Lockwood, who used a white fern, bisecting a field between blue and black, with four white-bordered red stars depicting the Southern Cross constellation.

Kyle’s offering was hugely popular amongst the new options, amassing 50.53% of first preference votes. The second choice was actually the same design, but featuring red in place of black. The fern has featured prominently on the country’s sports uniforms, most famously on the shirts of the All Blacks, the world-conquering New Zealand national rugby team.

New Zealand’s prime minister John Key is a firm advocate of the new design, and reiterated his position, claiming it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “If they don’t vote for change now, they’ll never get another chance until we become a republic,” said the Prime Minister.

The debate has not been without controversy, with many questioning the need for a flag change in the first place. A poll taken last year reported that 84% of people thought that a new flag was unnecessary.

The cost of the two referenda is projected to be in excess of $18m (NZ$27m), which many have dismissed as a frivolous expense. Among them, New Zealand’s opposition party leader, Andrew Little of Labour, criticising the exercise as a “hugely expensive and highly unpopular vanity project.”

The choice of the fern is as symbolic as it is artistic. It has long links to indigenous Maori culture, and even to colonial New Zealand as part of the British Empire and then the Commonwealth. Soldiers from New Zealand who fought for the British Empire in South Africa wore the emblem on their uniforms. There is a deep  connection to New Zeland’s colonial past contained within the symbolism of the established flag containing the Union Jack. Clearly there could be emotional  and political choices at stake in the referendum debate.


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