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Do you know your flag facts? Referendum starts today

The final referendum to determine New Zealand’s flag starts today and ends on Thursday 24 March with a preliminary result announcement expected from the Electoral Commission at 8.30pm, and the official result, after Easter, on Wednesday 30 March at 5pm (target times).

Flag Consideration Panel chair, Professor John Burrows, said the flag is our country’s most prominent symbol and it should therefore reflect how the country sees itself as well as how the country wants the world to see it.

“For those eligible to vote, the decision ahead merits careful thought, especially in regard to issues of identity.

Whatever the decision, this flag will fly for generations to come and we hope all Kiwis exercise their right to vote in this historic decision,” said Professor Burrows.

To help people with their decision, Panel member, historian Malcolm Mulholland, has published a comprehensive e-book which provides 90 informative facts about the flag; including the history of how our current (third) flag came to be, as well as the history behind the symbols on both the current New Zealand flag and the Silver Fern flag.

“Many people are interested in the rich history of our flags, and for some the current flag symbolizes our connection to Britain, the achievements of our past and is the one they have grown up with and feel connected to,” says Malcolm Mulholland.

“For others, the silver fern is a proud emblem that has been part of our country’s identity and history for many years; worn for good luck and commemoration and of course adopted by many of our national sporting teams,” he said.

To learn more, the New Zealand Flag Facts e-book can be found on Some excerpts are included here. New Zealand Flag Facts

Five excerpts from the e-book published recently by a member of the Flag Consideration Panel; historian, Malcolm Mulholland

Fact 1

(Page 9)

Is the New Zealand flag referendum process really a world first?

Yes. New Zealand leads the way as it has in many other things in its history (such as women gaining the vote etc). No other country in the world has embarked on the open and transparent process we are using to choose our nation’s flag.

Countries who have changed their flags have done it through legislation (having parliament pass law), royal or presidential decree, or revolution.

Fact 11

(page 22)

Is it true that Māori selected New Zealand’s first official flag?

Yes. British representative, James Busby, and a collective of 25 northern Māori rangatira met at his farm at Waitangi on 20 March 1834 to select the first official flag to represent our country - the United Tribes of New Zealand flag, as it came to be called.

The United Tribes of New Zealand flag was replaced by our second official flag, the Union Jack, in 1840, and our third flag (our current one), was designed by Albert Hastings Markham in 1869 and became official in 1902.

Fact 60

(page 93)

Do the points of the silver fern on the Silver Fern flag symbolise anything?

Yes. The designer, Kyle Lockwood, has used the silver fern to symbolise all New Zealanders. The multiple points on the silver fern represent New Zealand’s multiple cultures coming together and growing upward towards the future. As many will also be aware, Māori traditionally used an upturned silver fern to guide them, lighting the path home through the forest at night.

Fact 75

(page 119)

When was the current New Zealand flag first flown in battle?

In 1939, in what became known at the ‘Battle of the River Plate’, which was also the first time a New Zealand unit engaged in combat in World War 11.

Fact 88

(page 139)

Didn’t the NZ Listener run a competition 20+ years ago to find a new design for the flag?

It did, 27 years ago to be precise, in 1989. Discussion about changing our flag has been going on for decades. The NZ Listener invited a panel of artists and designers, as well as the public, to design a flag and proposed that the winning entry would be submitted to the government, and that a national referendum should follow.

Between 3-24 March, eligible voters have the unique opportunity to choose between the current New Zealand and the Silver Fern flag and history will be made when the nation determines which flag New Zealand flies for its future.

The outcome of the referendum will be binding, meaning whichever flag is chosen will become the next official flag of New Zealand (if it is not already).

Voting papers start being delivered to enrolled electors today and all enrolled voters should receive theirs by Friday 11 March. Any enrolled person who does not receive voting papers by then can request replacement from the Electoral Commission via or 0800 36 76 56.

New Zealand Flag Facts e-book

Download high-resolution images of current NZ Flag and Silver Fern Flag


Link to a summarised selection from the thousands of articles, news items and public comments:

Flag symbols video

More about the symbols, colours and meaning of the two flags can be found here:

Letter from the Flag Consideration Panel chair, Professor John Burrows

Read more here:

About the Flag Consideration Panel

The Flag Consideration Panel was appointed in February 2015 following nominations by a Cross Party Group of MPs. The Panel is independent of government and was provided with a set budget to conduct a public engagement campaign and recommend alternative flag designs to the Responsible Minister, Hon Bill English. Cabinet specified that the Panel’s public engagement process must be independent, inclusive, enduring, well-informed, practical, community-driven, dignified, legitimate and consistent with the Crown’s Treaty obligations.

Updated on 3rd March 2016