New Zealand spends $16 million…to keep same flag

New Zealand has voted to keep its current flag following a referendum that cost the country 25 million New Zealand dollars ($16 million).

A total of 2.1 million votes were cast from the country's overall population of about 4.5 million people, with roughly 56 percent opting for the status quo.

Fiona Goodall | Getty Images

Nearly 11,000 initial designs were whittled down to a final two after a panel shortlist of 40 was then put through a two stage public referendum.

According to the country's government, the process is estimated to have cost around 25 million New Zealand dollars ($16 mn).

Prime Minister John Key was accused of politicizing the debate when he expressed a preference for the new design which replaced a U.K. flag with a silver fern.

Following the result Key said to reporters that while disappointed, it's time to respect the decision.

"Obviously I'm naturally a little bit disappointed. I knew it would be hard to get more than 50 per cent of people to vote [for] change.

"For me personally I'll now be supporting the current New Zealand flag," he said Thursday.

Vote breakdown

Vote Breakdown
Courtesy: NZ Electoral Commission

On the cost of a debate which ultimately changed nothing, the prime minister was unrepentant.

"Nearly a million people voted for change so that shows widespread support.

"We also had a discussion about nationhood and what we stand for and I don't think we should shy away from that," Key said.

Those who pushed for a change in flag argued that the current design was too similar in design to Australia's. For example, in 1984, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was greeted by New Zealand flags when visiting Canada

Fans of a new flag had also argued that the current emblem neither represented New Zealand's independent status nor its indigenous Maori and Pacifica people that make up a growing percentage of the country's population.

On the other hand, many other people expressed an emotional pull to the current flag, pointing out that it represents a nation with historic ties to the United Kingdom. Change was also seen as disrespectful to soldiers who had fought under the flag during two world wars.