New Zealand PM admits flag change vote 'a tough ask'

21st September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister John Key conceded Monday he faces a challenge persuading New Zealanders to change the national flag in a referendum after an opinion poll found overwhelming support for the existing banner.

Key's flag change proposal will be put to a vote later this year and the leader insisted there was still time to win over the public.

"It's always going to be a tough ask to change the flag by a public referendum," he told Radio New Zealand.

"You've got to engage people, you've got to get them to think through the issues... no one's arguing it's not a big challenge."

He was speaking after a TV3 poll published Sunday found 69 percent of New Zealanders wanted to keep the current flag, which features Britain's Union Jack in the corner.

Only 25 percent of 1,000 respondents wanted a new flag, with six percent undecided.

The poll was taken after a government committee this month unveiled four potential designs for a new flag, to a lacklustre response from the public.

Three of the designs include a silver fern leaf, the informal national emblem which Key has said he wants on the flag.

The fourth depicts a spiralling black-and-white koru, or fern frond, a traditional Maori symbol of new life and creation.

Kiwis will pick their favourite among the four at the referendum and the winner will then go head-to-head against the existing flag in a second vote in March.

Key has made the flag reform issue his pet project since his conservative government won a third term late last year, arguing the country needs a banner "that screams New Zealand".

He has also expressed frustration the existing flag -- which also features four red stars representing the Southern Cross on a dark blue background -- is frequently confused with Australia's banner.

Despite the poll, he said he still believed most people had open minds on the issue.

"Every audience I go to at the moment I ask them the question at some point and I haven't had an audience that's been more than 50 percent wanting to keep the flag," he said.

"In fact, the vast, overwhelming bulk want a change."

© 2015 AFP

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