Union Jack or Silver Fern?

That is the decision facing voters. A flag with the Union Jack and a stylised southern cross or a flag with a stylised silver fern and southern cross. 

The focus of the debate will inevitably fall on our links to the UK but it is important that the debate doesn't degenerate into a slanging match about Britain. Changing the flag is not about being anti-British. It is a debate about New Zealand's independence. About our place in the world.

Supporters of flag change believe, on principle, that no other country's flag should appear on New Zealand's flag. They believe New Zealand is an independent South Pacific country and that our flag should celebrate New Zealand's unique identity.

Whether the winning flag has enough support remains to be seen but as Kiwis debate the pros and cons of change it is important to keep the standard of debate high. This is not some party political issue. It is a cross party issue and people need to step away from their party allegiances. We also need to remember that political and cultural debates work best when everyone involved avoids personal insults and silly generalisations.

New Zealand's current links with the UK will not be affected by changing the flag. Family and friends will remain, trade will continue, military and diplomatic links will carry on. British art and culture will still be a big influence on ours and we will still have a British Head of State.

Neither will retaining the current flag remove the need for New Zealand to have it's own Head of State. That necessity will remain no matter what the result.  

First Flag Referendum

New Zealand needs to have a New Zealand Head of State. It also needs a flag that better represents contemporary New Zealand and which will carry on representing New Zealand for at least the next 100 years.

It is not as important which of these changes happens first but it is a simple fact that only a New Zealander as Head of State will make us constitutionally independent. Removing the British flag from ours will not remove the need to change the way we appoint our Head of State.  

New Zealand Republic's priority is, and always will be, achieving an independent and democratically selected Head of State that serves the interests of all New Zealanders. Once that important change is in place then the issues associated with it can be updated and resolved as and when it is necessary to do so.

We are proposing a Head of State Commission be established to guide the process of change. A fair and independent body that will work outside of party politics to make recommendations on how best to enact the necessary legislative changes and how to deal with all the smaller incidental issues like whose head appears on our coins and whether Queen's or King's Service medals are still awarded.

It is up to New Zealanders to decide whether New Zealand gets a new flag next year. If it happens then that is one less thing to change once we have a Kiwi Head of State. If the current flag remains in place then the flag design will simply be revisited after we have achieved a New Zealand republic. 

Many have argued that we should only change the flag as a symbol of New Zealand once there is a substantial change in our national identity. Having our own Head of State won't radically alter New Zealand society but constitutionally it will represent the final step to full constitutional indendence. At that point in time it will make sense to have a flag that reflects our new found sense of pride and nationhood.   

Foreign dignitaries should be welcomed by a Kiwi Head of State

Prince Charles, the future British Head of State arrives today for another six-day whistle-stop tour of New Zealand. He will be greeted by the Head of Government John Key and by the Mayor of Wellington Celia Wade-Brown. He will then go to Government House for an official powhiri.

It would be better if we had an independent New Zealand Head of State who could welcome all visiting dignatories. At present the role is carried out by the Governor-General. Whenever British dignitaries arrive they are greeted by a representative of their own Head of State. When members of the British royal family arrive it is assumed they outrank our Governor-General. That has to change.

New Zealand's connections with the UK are important. Our Head of State should stand side by side with the British Head of State as equal and sovereign representatives.

We need to take what we already have - a New Zealander as Governor-General - and make it better. Sir Jerry Mateparae is our 10th Kiwi born Governor-General. We've had fifty years of New Zealand Governors-General so it is relatively straight-forward for us to make the transition to our own Head of State. All the basic protocols and coventions are largely in place.   

Becoming a republic would help to modernise our diplomatic relationship with the UK. Members of the British royal family would still visit as part of reciprocal visits between New Zealand and the UK. Future visits would be more productive instead of just being PR and marketing opportunities. 

The current visits are popular with royal watchers but they don't do much for the rest of New Zealand.

Our relationship with the UK is important. Time to recognise that and welcome important British visitors by taking the time to talk with them about things that matter instead of another round of photo opportunities.

Knights and Dames and Head of State change

The debate over whether to have titular honours is ongoing but New Zealand first needs to change the way we select and appoint our Head of State. We need to decide what values and principles should guide our most important constitional office.   

New Zealand has an honours system that the majority of New Zealanders appreciate and value. Within that system there are numerous awards according to a person's contribution and work. The recipients are chosen by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and bestowed by the Governor-General. Occasionally they are bestowed by Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles. Knighthoods and Damehoods are seen as the most prestigious after membership of the Order of New Zealand which is limited to 20 people at any one time.      

The awards have their origins in the British class system which ranks people and bestows aristocratic titles on them.  They are imbued with all of the prejudices and biases of that system. They are inherently sexist.  Only married heterosexual men are entitled to bestow a title on their partner.  The wife of a 'Knight' receives the title of 'Lady'. The husband of a 'Dame' receives no corresponding title. If a man is married to a man then his husband receives no honour. Likewise the wife of a Dame. It is one of the last places in New Zealand where discrimination is condoned and institutionalised.

If New Zealand is to have titled honours what would they be? The current titles bestowed imply that the recipient has a higher social value than everyone else because they have affiliated themselves with the British monarchy. The awarding of the titles are subject to political bias and too often titles are given out to people with party affiliations without any proper public scrutiny. There is no properly independent process or criteria for awarding them. Some people are awarded them for a lifetime of public service. Others get them because they did their job well or won a major sporting event or raised a lot of money for whatever political party is in power.  

Australia now looks set to remove titular honours with both the Liberal Party and Labour Party leaders speaking in favour of it.  It is a clear rejection of Tony Abbott's decision to reinstate them and then award a knighthood to Prince Phillip. 

John Key reinstated titular honours after Labour removed them. Neither decision involved any real public consultation. The cabinet then gave Prince Phillip Additional Membership of the Order of New Zealand. 

The sexist nature of the honours system and the way in which the titles are decided are part of a larger conversation that we need to have as a country. That conversation, like the flag issue, is not dependent on having first changed the way we choose our Head of State but it makes sense to start with that primary issue.  

Sexist titles could be removed overnight if the government chose to prioritise equal rights but doing so would only raise larger questions about how we honour worthy New Zealanders when our Head of State is itself not chosen by merit.

Transitioning to a Kiwi head of state based on the Office of Governor-General is a straight-forward way to solve the problems inherent in having the British monarch as Head of State.

This new Head of State would still bestow national honours. Whether they would have a greater role in overseeing the awarding of the honours or whether a larger review of the entire honours system is needed would be something for the proposed Head of State Commission to decide or recommend.

We are first campaigning for that central and most important change. The establishment of a Head of State Commission and the overall transition to a merit based system of appointment.