Prime Minister John Key this morning said he was "delighted" with the design that won the referendum and said it was a good choice because it was traditional but used the "national symbol of New Zealand", the silver fern.
But he said ultimately the "real decision" will come in March's referendum to either keep the current flag or change it to Kyle Lockwood's design. Key told reporters outside Auckland Airport's domestic terminal he would vote to change the flag.
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"You think about the black that has been traditional for New Zealand's sports teams around the world. The silver fern -- you ask the average New Zealander if they go anywhere outside New Zealand and if they want to be recognised, it's the silver fern that people know. And if you go to the Commonwealth war graves to mark the ultimate sacrifice made for our country, it's the silver fern on their gravestones, not the flag."
Key urged voters to look past their personal feelings for him as a leader when casting their ballot.
"Probably the most historic change that's similar to ours was in 1965 in Canada. Any Canadian can remember the flag change, but probably not a single one can remember who the Canadian Prime Minister was.
"So even if you don't like me, if you want a new flag I encourage you to vote for it."
The Prime Minister said he wasn't surprised Red Peak failed to do well in the vote because although "it was a nice design, it probably didn't actually pull the heart strings of New Zealanders".
"At least we've settled that matter."
Key stood behind the $26 million spent on the process, stating a new flag would benefit New Zealand economically in the long run.
"In the end, whether you accept whether we should have spent money on this thing or not, it comes to nationhood and the promotion of New Zealand. It's worth it.
"The economics of changing a flag overwhelmingly support doing that, in my view, because you have much greater recognition of New Zealand.
"As a country, I think we'd use it more and would rally behind it."
Key said not including the Union Jack on the flag didn't mean New Zealand would sever its ties to the Commonwealth. He was "massively in favour" of keeping the Queen as our head of state.
"I know change is hard for people and I really appreciate that and I understand the history of it all. The history isn't lost because you change it, but sometimes change can be for the good."
He believed this referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because it could be another 50-100 years before this opportunity came again.
"Those who say we'll come back and revisit this are dreaming. No other Prime Minister is going to take this on because they'll look at it and say, 'Look at all the flak [he] got along the way'."