When to change the flag

In the debate over the proposed flag referendum it is important to avoid confusing the question of whether to change the flag with the question of when to change the flag.

National promised the flag referendum if they were re-elected and they were. So at some point in 2015 or 2016 New Zealanders can expect to vote in an indicator referendum. The government has yet to release the full details but is understood to be in favour of a two stage referendum process with an independent, or cross-party, group established to guide the overall process.

Some are calling the debate a distraction and not necessary. Even those who are fully in favour of New Zealand one day adopting a new flag are against it happening when, in their view, "there are more important priorities". Those who oppose any flag change agree with them. They either want to stop the referendum or stop a vote in favour of change.

Our campaign is all about giving New Zealanders their own head of state but we also support a new flag - if that is what New Zealanders decide. When that happens and what that new flag might look is, again, for voters to decide.

We are focused on the substance of change rather than the symbolism and believe the turn the Governor-General into an independent head of state is an important priority. Clearly New Zealand will not be constitutionally independent until we have our own head of state.

We welcome, however, the discussion of national identity that will accompany the flag referendum. The flag debate will see New Zealanders engaging in widespread discussion as to what it means to be an independent and sovereign nation.  There will be talk of post-colonialism and nationhood. About what it means to be a New Zealander.

Referendums highlight the importance of open and democratic decision making and as an organisation we are committed to keeping New Zealanders fully informed with relevant and reliable information.

To assert there are 'other priorities' than flag change or head of state reform is understandable but it misrepresents the widespread nature of progress and political change. New Zealand has many pressing social and economic problems that have to be addressed but it also has democratic and constitutional reforms that need to happen as well. We have to make progress in all areas and not fall behind in one just because we are busy fixing another.

Reforming the office of head of state, and ensuring Government House is working on behalf of all New Zealanders will take many years and that process has to start sooner rather than later.  It is not the same kind of priority as child poverty or increasing illiteracy but it is still a priority.

New Zealanders deserve an fair and effective head of state. One that reflects the diversity of contemporary New Zealand.

The flag debates are going to happen with the next two years and the more New Zealanders who are involved the more productve they will be. Whether we get a new flag, and when we get a new flag, is something only New Zealanders can decide. In either case the debate will be a chance for New Zealanders to decide what their priorities are.