New Zealand’s flag referendums: the story so far


Next month New Zealanders will vote in a postal referendum to decide whether to retain their current flag or switch to a new flag featuring the silver fern symbol. This is the culmination of a lengthy process that has seen more than 10,000 proposed new designs narrowed down first to five and then, through a preliminary referendum late last year, to just one. Therese Arseneau and Nigel S. Roberts discuss the process so far and look ahead to the upcoming ballot.

There has long been debate about New Zealand’s national flag, considered (by some at least) to be confusing and/or inappropriate. It is very similar to the Australian flag, which also has the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner (or canton) and which also depicts the stars of the Southern Cross on the right-hand half of the flag. New Zealand Prime Ministers have been embarrassed on a number of occasions while on official overseas visits to find themselves standing in front of, or being greeted by, Australian and not New Zealand flags.

NZ Aus flags

The current flags of New Zealand (left) and Australia (right)

A growing number of people have argued for a new flag on the grounds of ‘nationhood’. New Zealand is no longer a British colony but is, rather, a proud and independent nation. Because New Zealand is an increasingly multi-cultural, Pacific nation-state, it is claimed that the Union Jack should no longer be a part of the country’s flag. Many in New Zealand were impressed by Canada’s decision in the 1960s to adopt a distinctive new flag that is now widely recognised and praised around the world.

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