Flag Referendums Bill passes first reading

  • Bill English
Deputy Prime Minister

A bill that sets out how the two postal referendums on the New Zealand Flag will be conducted passed its first reading in Parliament today, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

The New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill was referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee after a 76 to 43 vote on the first reading.

“New Zealanders will decide whether the flag changes or not,” Mr English says.

“The bill simply puts in place the structures and processes needed to ensure that the consideration process is carried out formally, carefully and fairly. The proposed legislation contains no bias in favour of change.”

The bill sets out the rules and requirements for the conduct of the referendums, as well as rules for participation by voters and advertisers.

Before the referendums, the Flag Consideration Panel will lead a public engagement process. Likely starting in May, it will invite people to suggest flag designs and to share their views on the flag. Following that process, four designs will be included in a referendum planned for November/December. Voters will rank the designs according to their personal preferences.

A second referendum, planned for March next year, will give voters a simple choice between the current flag and the design that was most preferred by voters in the first referendum.

“The outcome of the second referendum will be binding. If New Zealanders choose the alternative flag, it will become the official New Zealand flag. If they choose the current flag, nothing will change.

“I hope voters will take this rare opportunity to have their say on the symbol that will represent New Zealand for decades to come.”


New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill

If I want to have a say in the flag designs do I make a submission on the bill?

No.  If you have a flag design that you would like to suggest, you should send this to the Flag Consideration Panel during the public engagement phase which will be advertised in mid-2015. The select committee process to consider the bill is separate. The bill is about the referendums themselves.

Will this referendum process be binding?

Yes. The New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill includes mechanisms that make the decision of voters binding. If the current flag wins in the second referendum, it will remain our flag. If the alternative flag wins, that decision will trigger the necessary legal amendments to make this the new New Zealand flag. This will occur six months after the referendum or earlier by Order in Council.

What will be the status of the current flag if there’s a vote to change it? Will people still be able to fly it? 

Yes, members of the public are free to fly flags as they choose. The only rules about flying the flag apply to the Government and to New Zealand-registered ships. If the flag changes, the current flag will have its historical significance recognised in law.

If the flag changes, will other flags or symbols (such as the Coat of Arms) need to change as well?

No. The bill would change only the New Zealand Flag, and there is no requirement for other symbols to change.

My business currently uses the New Zealand Flag in advertising, packaging or branding. If there is a change, will I have to change anything?

There would be no legal requirement to change – it would be up to you.

How have other parties been involved in the development of this bill?

All parties were invited to join a cross-party group of MPs. All parliamentary parties were represented in this group with the exception of New Zealand First which declined to participate. The cross-party group had input into the development of this bill including the voting system and number of alternative flag designs to be included in the first referendum, the advertising rules and the planned timing of the second referendum.

What is the benefit of a two-stage referendum process?

A two stage process means that the most-preferred alternative flag can be found before voters decide between changing to a new flag, or keeping the current one.

Why is the preferential voting system being used in the first referendum?

With preferential voting, voters rank the options presented. This gives people more opportunity to indicate their preferences amongst the alternative flags. This ranking system means that, for example, if a voter’s first choice is eliminated then their second choice could be taken into account.

Information will be provided to ensure voters clearly understand how to rank the flag designs. Voters will not have to rank all four flags for their vote to count.

If I support the current New Zealand flag should I vote in the first referendum?

All New Zealanders who are on the electoral roll are encouraged to vote in both referendums.  While you can choose to vote for the current flag in the second referendum, the first referendum allows you to have your say about which alternative flag you prefer if the flag was to change.

Why aren’t there rules or limits on spending on referendum advertising?

In the context of a national discussion of our flag the Government decided, in consultation with the cross-party group, that only light regulation was necessary.

Earlier press release and FAQs:

Flag Consideration Panel press release and FAQs: