Prime Minister John Key explains why he thinks the All Blacks can give us a big clue on a winning design.

Last Saturday night I had the privilege, with more than 40,000 others, of watching the Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park.

Several things struck me about the night, not least of them the wonderful display by the All Blacks which bodes well for their World Cup campaign.

What I first noticed was the sea of black in the crowd.

There was a sprinkling of yellow - worn by a few diehard Aussie supporters who probably did not have a very good night - but black was dominant. New Zealand supporters had come with their passion, with their pride and with their black.

Advertisement

What I also noticed was that there were very few New Zealand flags in the crowd.

Most New Zealanders, I believe, do not think of the flag as their preferred way to display and share their sense of national identity. Besides, it's too much like Australia's - especially when New Zealand is playing against Australia. Without being able to count the stars, how would people know whose flag anyone was holding?

I have the privilege of travelling all over the country and meeting thousands of New Zealanders. I reckon we are as loyal and patriotic as any people in the world. But very few New Zealanders fly the flag proudly. It isn't emblazoned on the T-shirts and backpacks of travelling Kiwis, and few would choose to wave the New Zealand flag at street parades and sporting matches.

I believe that's because our current flag reflects the way we once were, rather than the way we are now. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to the New Zealand flag. It has served us well. It has flown at the most important times in our country's history. It has flown to remember the servicemen and women who gave their lives for our country. It has flown at funerals, at national days and at Gallipoli.

It has flown when our sportspeople have won gold medals overseas at Olympic games. It flies at Parliament, from public buildings and on public holidays. But I believe a new flag can take the best of the past and project that into the future.

It can reflect a forward-looking, confident New Zealand that is asserting itself and building its own identity in the 21st century. Our flag can be the choice of New Zealanders rather than the 19th century adaptation of a British ensign.

I think that now is the time we had a national discussion and, for the only time in New Zealand's history, all have the opportunity to have a say in choosing our flag.

In the future, no one will remember or care who the politicians were when we changed the flag, just as they do not remember or care who the politicians were when we got our current ensign. It simply does not matter. All that is important is to ensure the decision is taken fairly and democratically. Many Commonwealth and other countries have changed their flags. While it might have seemed a big deal at the time, I bet none would choose to go back.

Canada's maple leaf, for example, is a powerful symbol of that country - instantly recognisable in a way its previous flag was not.

Changing our flag would not disrespect the New Zealand servicemen and women who served under it. Those brave New Zealanders did not fight for a flag, they fought for a country, for each other, for the people they left behind and for a way of life that included freedom of choice. Many lie in foreign graves adorned not by a New Zealand flag, but by a silver fern.

Last Saturday night I wore a New Zealand Rugby Union tie with a silver fern on it. On my lapel I also wore a silver fern because it, to me, symbolises this country that I love and so proudly serve.

The All Blacks' jersey had a silver fern on it, and around me were more of them. In a sense, the people have already spoken.

They have adopted a symbol that unites them as belonging to a young and proudly independent country that has achieved a lot and has more to do.

Our flag should tell that story.