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Prime Minister John Key today ruled out a referendum on the flag to coincide with the general election on September 20, saying the issue would be a distraction.
However, at a speech at Victoria University, he outlined a plan to hold a public discussion and vote next parliamentary term on New Zealand’s flag.
Mr Key said it was his belief that the design of the current flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed.
“I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a new flag,” he says.
He outlined a plan for a cross-party group of MPs to recommend the best referenda process, and a steering group to ensure the public has the opportunity to engage in discussion on the flag and to submit design ideas.
“It’s really important that consideration of a new flag includes genuine input from New Zealanders. All voices need an opportunity to be heard,” he says.
“A flag that unites all New Zealanders should be selected by all New Zealanders. This decision is bigger than party politics.”
Mr Key says he wants to give a clear assurance and commitment that retaining the current flag is a very possible outcome from the process, and there will be no presumption in favour of a change.
He says New Zealand retains a strong and important constitutional link with the monarchy that he did not see a groundswell of support to change.
“Our status as a constitutional monarchy continues to serve us well,” he says.
Mr Key says that should he have the privilege of remaining Prime Minister after the general election in September, he would write to leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament asking them to nominate an MP to join a cross-party group to oversee the flag consideration process.
The group would recommend the best referenda process to follow, and also be involved in nominating New Zealanders from outside Parliament to form a steering group which would be primarily responsible for ensuring the public has the opportunity to engage in the debate.
“One of the tasks of that steering group will be to seek submissions from the public on flag designs.
“I would like to see the referenda process completed during the next Parliamentary term, so it does not intrude on the 2017 elections.”