The flag proposed by NZFlag.com.
There have been numerous calls in the last few decades for a new flag to be adopted. People argue that the current flag is too similar to the Australian one and/or that it is inappropriate for the Union Jack to so dominate our national flag. These arguments have been articulated by some MPs and since 2004 by NZFlag.com, a trust established with the sole purpose 'of encouraging New Zealanders to change the flag'. On the other side is the Returned Services Association (RSA), which has historically opposed any change to the flag, arguing that generations of New Zealanders have fought and died under it.
One criticism New Zealanders often make of their flag is that it is too similar to Australia's. On occasion this has also caused embarrassment for Australians. In 1985 Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was greeted by a New Zealand flag while travelling overseas.
In 1979 National MP and Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet, ignited debate around the New Zealand flag by suggesting it should be changed. But Highet's proposal gained little traction. Neither did a call by Labour MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs Russell Marshall in 1988. This was unsurprising - polls taken in 1973 and 1984 suggested that the majority of New Zealanders were opposed to changing their flag. In 1989, a year before commemorations of the sesquicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Listener magazine took a slightly different approach. It ran a competition asking artists, designers and New Zealanders to send in their ideas for a new flag. This followed 'Ausflag', a similar competition held in Australia in 1986 in the lead up to its bicentennial celebrations.
Much of the debate over whether there should be a new New Zealand flag is generated by polls conducted by the media. These have consistently suggested that the majority of New Zealanders oppose any change. The results of some of the polls taken:1973 - 75% No to change
There were nearly 600 entries in the flag competition. These were then narrowed down to seven semi-finalists, which included the current New Zealand flag and the United Tribes flag. The New Zealand flag was eventually announced as the minority winner with 45.6% of the vote. While most people supported other designs their votes were split between the six other options. Despite this result Gordon Campbell, who ran the competition for the magazine, considered that it had 'exploded myths' about New Zealanders' devotion to the flag. He argued that:
The true gauge of support for the flag cannot be gauged accurately by asking people what they think of the current design. A better picture emerges when the current flag is placed among other designs, with the invitation to choose between them. Most New Zealanders do want a change; what the Listener competition failed to do was toss up the right design that could tap that underlying yearning for change.
Numerous other flag designs had been suggested before and have been suggested since this competition. There continues to be difficulty reaching consensus on any new design.
Others reignited the flag debate during the 1990s and 2000s. In February 1992 Hon Matiu Rata, a former Minister of Maori Affairs and the founder of Maori political party Mana Motuhake, called for the flag to be redesigned to 're-establish our national identity'. The RSA responded by circulating a petition throughout their membership calling for the flag to be retained. They had already collected approximately 10,000 signatures, and argued that many more people would sign it should the flag come under active threat.
The flag debate was stirred up again in 1998 when National Party MP and Minister of Cultural Affairs Marie Hasler called for the current flag to be replaced with a silver fern on a black background. The Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, tourism operators and others supported her suggestion. The RSA again argued in favour of the existing flag, but said that it would support a change to the flag if it was shown to be 'the will of the people' in a public referendum.
Hasler lost her ministerial post following the 1999 election and the formation of a Labour-led government. She remained in Parliament as a list MP and continued to lobby for the flag to be changed. Having learnt that the silver fern emblem used by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union had been patented, she began looking for a flag that was a variation on that theme.
In early 2004 another voice emerged. Wellington businessman Lloyd Morrison formed a Trust, NZFlag.com, with the 'sole purpose of encouraging New Zealanders to change the flag'. Hasler was one of the initial trustees. The RSA maintained its stance that they would prefer to keep the existing flag but that they would back a change if it was voted for in a public referendum. Some district associations, such as Canterbury, disagreed and voted unanimously to oppose any move to alter or change the flag.
Later that year the new trust announced plans for a petition calling for a citizens-initiated referendum at the 2005 election. The aim was, depending on the outcome, to have a second referendum at the 2008 election to decide on the design of the new flag. The campaign began with gusto. High-profile figures such as Catherine Tizard, Keith Quinn and Susan Devoy became supporters, a school competition for designs for a new flag was organised, and many volunteers signed up to take around the petition.
The trust needed 270,000 signatures by October, but when a deal to distribute signature forms via Telecom and New Zealand Post fell through, they were forced to abandon the effort. At this point they had obtained 100,000 signatures.
NZFlag.com continues to operate and debate on the flag is often stirred up, notably around Waitangi Day each year. In 2010, following considerable debate on the national Maori flag, the New Zealand Herald ran a front-page article arguing that it was time to change the New Zealand flag. They declared that 'a majority of New Zealand's most eminent citizens' agreed, presenting the opinions of political party leaders and the 22 members of the Order of New Zealand. But the party leaders were evenly split (the Greens had two change votes), and only half of the Order of New Zealand members backed changing the flag. The remaining 11 were either opposed, unsure, or unwilling or unavailable to comment.