New Zealand leader wants national referendum on changing flag

John Key wants a referendum next year after winning a third term for his party in Saturday's national election

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Fresh off a big election win, New Zealand Prime Minster John Key said Monday that he wants the nation to vote next year on changing its flag.

Key told television station TV3 that he wants to quickly initiate the process of holding a national referendum.

“I’d like that issue dealt with in 2015,” he said. “New Zealanders either need to decide yes or no.”

Some in New Zealand consider the flag to be an unwanted relic from a colonial past, while others feel a deep attachment to it. The flag depicts the Southern Cross star constellation and includes Britain’s Union Jack in the top left corner. Opponents say it’s too similar to Australia’s flag and doesn’t reflect New Zealand’s independence from Britain.

When Key first raised the idea of a flag vote in March, he said he favoured changing the design to a silver fern set against a black background, an image that’s popular among New Zealand’s sports teams, including the national rugby squad, known as the All Blacks.

Some say that design would equate the country too much with its sporting heroes, or would be too reminiscent of a pirate ensign. And such a flag would not make reference to the nation’s indigenous Maori, who some say should be represented in any new design.

Among those who support retaining the flag are the Returned and Services Association group, which represents former military personnel.

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.

Key told TV3 that 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.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe told reporters Monday that he doesn’t intend to resign but does want the party to take a leadership vote so he’s either given a mandate to continue or is replaced.