Change the NZ Flag is a movement campaigning to change the New Zealand flag. We want to see a flag by New Zealanders, for New Zealanders – a flag that represents the modern, vibrant and diverse country we are today, not the far flung colony of the British Empire we once were.
Our purpose is to educate New Zealanders about why we need to change our flag, to encourage them to think about our national identity, our shared culture and values, how they want those represented to the rest of the world on the international stage, and to build support across the country for change.
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The movement to change New Zealand’s flag has roots as far back as World War 2 and spans across the political spectrum.
World War 2
Prime Minister Peter Fraser receives suggestions to include a Māori emblem on the flag. The matter is deferred until after the war but is never brought up again.
The Labour Party debates changing the flag at their national conference in 1973. Then in 1979, National’s Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet suggests a change of flag to one featuring a silver fern.
Labour’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Russell Marshall calls for a flag change in 1988, which is followed in 1989 by a flag design contest in the Listener that attracted nearly 600 entries. The United Tribes Flag beats out the current flag with a minority vote of 45.6%
Throughout the decade the former Minister of Māori Affairs Matiu Rata, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler all call for the flag to be changed.
Lloyd Morrison launched the NZ Flag.com Trust to bring about a non-binding referendum on changing the flag using a silver fern on a black background designed by Cameron Sanders. The petition attracted 100,000 signatures.
In 2010 Labour’s Charles Chauvel introduces a member’s bill for a flag commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag. National’s Prime Minister John Key then announces that in 2015 and 2016 a two part referendum will be held, with the first stage being to select an alternative flag and the second to be a run off against the current flag. Kyle Lockwood’s black, white and blue silver fern with a southern cross wins the first referendum. While it is ultimately unsuccessful in the second referendum, it performs much better than anyone predicted, picking up 43.2% of the vote.
We should have a flag that honours our past, but without the strong presence of Britain’s Union Flag which takes up the dominant position on today’s flag.
Modern New Zealand is in fact multi-cultural, and our new flag should incorporate well-known symbols, and be of a design that represents all of us, not just segments of our society.
There are, however, a number of myths around changing the flag that we want to address.
New Zealanders in the two world wars fought for the NZ Flag
Soldiers fought for the freedom of their family, friends, and country and not just for a flag. Troops in the two world wars generally rallied around the Union Jack, and not the NZ Ensign. Our first soldiers to fight overseas – who went to fight in the Boer War in South Africa – had the United Tribes flag on their service medals.
Changing the flag is an insult to military personnel who served.
53 Commonwealth countries changed their flag after World War Two, including Canada who changed their flag a mere 19 years after World War II. In 2015 Canada celebrated 50 years of having its own beautiful and distinctive flag, while the Canadian British ensign still a legal flag of Canada and is often flown on days of historical significance such as Remembrance Day, which still brings out thousands of Canadians each day to pay respect to the sacrifices their soldiers made. Changing their flag hasn’t diminished the respect Canadians have for those who served, and neither would it diminish respect for our soldiers either.
A new New Zealand Flag will have to be immediately updated on sports and military uniforms, driver licences and flags nationwide.
Existing licences will still be valid until the date of expiry shown on the licence – just like when newly designed bank notes are issued the old notes remain legal tender – it would follow that uniforms and flags, would be updated only as they wear out, there would be no need to throw out our the nations entire stock of older flags, as they would still have legal status and be flown on days of national historical significance.
Our flag is a unique and timeless symbol of our nation.
The New Zealand flag has changed several times in our national history. Our first internationally recognised flag was the United Tribes flag, approved by King William IV in 1836. It was replaced by our second flag – the Union Jack in 1840. Our third flag of 1867 was an unimaginative British blue ensign with unattractive red letters NZ and only intended for use on the colonies’ merchant vessels, and was replaced swiftly by the existing ensign in 1869 – again only intended for merchant vessels, and was only made official in 1902 due to the Seddon Government reacting to Kiwis turning up to farewell and welcome back soldiers going to the Boer War who flew the United Tribes flag in great numbers.
The 1869 Blue Ensign flag is hardly unique and was a generic British flag used by dozens of British colonies.
If we change the flag, NZ has to become a republic
Canada is a Commonwealth country yet they changed their flag 50 years ago, the flag and republic debates are completely separate. In fact, many other Commonwealth countries have changed their flag to remove the Union Jack but haven’t changed their other constitutional arrangements.
Our soldiers are buried under our flag
This isn’t necessarily true. Our soldiers buried in Commonwealth War Graves are buried with head stones that don’t feature our flag, but the silver fern instead, as it’s been the enduring symbol of our armed forces ever since they first served overseas.