The final four flag designs to be voted on in the first referendum have been announced. Whether any of them will have enough support to become our new flag remains to be seen.
This week's Herald digi-poll showed the final result will be heavily dependent on what the alternative flag is. A quarter of voters will only tick change if they like the alternative on offer.
The flag debate so far has centred on six issues. Whether the current flag is appropriate, whether a new flag dishonours war dead, the reason for the change, the consultation process, the overall cost, and of course what counts as a good design.
The current flag is problematic. It has another country's flag on it and speaks of a time when there was no such thing as New Zealand citizenship. The fact that many New Zealanders have British heritage and that New Zealand was once a British colony is no reason to have their flag on ours. We will always have strong ties to the UK and we choosing a new flag will not diminish that.
The idea that changing the flag is disrespectful to our war dead is highly emotive but it is not a strong one. It is disappointing to see both sides of the debate using war graves to try and sway public opinion. It is an argument not worthy of the RSA.
The timing and reasons for the debate have been hotly debated. There was no full cross-party parliamentary support for the change process. It became caught up in party politics early on and there was a sense that, as a national identity issue, it was low on the list of priorities. Public support for change was not seen as high enough to warrant the cost. A smaller panel of flag and design experts was suggested instead of a 12 person 'cross-section' of New Zealanders. The use of two postal referendums was also criticised.
New Zealand Republic supports flag change if that is what Kiwi voters decide. The flag is about national identity and symbolism whereas we are focused far more on constitutional issues. Our priority will always be achieving a New Zealand Head of State that works for all New Zealand. While this is, in part, an issue of national identity the role is primarily a constitutional and administrative office with specific powers and responsibilities.
It takes time to reform an important constiutional office like that of the Governor-General and we are advocating a calm, considered. and long-term process of change that will deliver successive worthy New Zealanders into the role.
The flag debate had to happen sooner or later and the National-led cabinet decided it was going to happen sooner. It is important that New Zealand take the time to think about and discuss issues of national identity and constitutional reform. We are watching the debate with interest and drawing important lessons on how these types of changes unfold.
The debate now shifts toward the merits of each alternative design. We have no preference among the four designs. It is up to New Zealanders to decide whether any of them are enough of an improvement on our current flag.