Wellington - Queen Elizabeth II's representative in New Zealand has publicly supported debate on ditching the Union Jack from the national flag, saying ties to former colonial ruler Britain have waned.
Commenting on Prime Minister John Key's call for the country to adopt an All Blacks-style silver fern flag, Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae said modern New Zealanders' national identity was strongly bound to the Pacific.
Mateparae, the former chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, said he had not yet seen a design he felt reflected the country's identity, but he supported debate on changing the flag.
“From the First World War onwards, we have been looking at our identity and we are much more comfortable with our place in the world today as being in the Pacific,” he told Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper.
“A hundred years ago there was a greater affiliation to the United Kingdom. We do now see ourselves as deeply seated and rooted in the Pacific.”
Key floated the flag-change proposal this week, but said the government would hold a referendum before any decision was made to alter the existing banner.
The current flag features the Union Jack in one corner, with the remainder consisting of four stars representing the Southern Cross constellation.
Critics say it is an anachronism to have Britain's flag featured so prominently and argue the banner is too easily confused with those of other former British colonies such as Australia, which has an almost identical design.
Others say that New Zealanders have fought and died under the flag, which was first used in 1869 and formally adopted in 1902, arguing that to change it would dishonour their memory.
Key said he believed the flag should display a silver fern on a black background, the national emblem already used by New Zealand sporting teams such as rugby union's All Blacks.
He said Canada, another former colony of Britain, had never regretted adopting its distinctive maple leaf flag in 1965.