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The New Zealand flag is one of the most important symbols of our national identity and the proposal to consider a new flag is attracting a great deal of interest.

Our current flag has served us for more than 100 years, one of three flags in our history.

That means most New Zealanders appreciate the privilege of having this very rare opportunity to have their say on the design that will most likely serve the country well into the future.

There are lots of ideas about what a new New Zealand flag could look like.

It’s our silver fern, rather than our flag, that’s etched in the crosses marking the final resting place of all New Zealanders who are interred in Commonwealth War Graves overseas. And it’s often the silver fern, rather than our flag, that Kiwi travellers wear when they are overseas.

But, of course, the silver fern is not the only alternative design idea. There are already numerous design suggestions on the Gallery page of the flag.govt.nz website. Have a look. I think you’ll be impressed by the range, and by the care that people are taking when suggesting ideas.

Prime Minister John Key says he believes it is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation.

But as he’s also said, he gets one vote in each referendum, just like everyone else. We are determined the flag debate will be conducted thoroughly, respectfully and fairly with every opportunity for New Zealanders to have their say.

An independent Flag Consideration Panel was appointed to design and run the process, and that panel has just launched public consultation and invited submissions.

Until mid-July, New Zealanders can contribute their ideas and suggestions for a possible new flag design. The panel will pick four designs to go to the first referendum.

Voters will be asked to indicate which of four designs they most prefer. You won’t be able to vote at that stage on whether or not you want change, because we think it is important that you know the alternative before you say yes or no to change.

The design that gets the most support from the first referendum will go forward to a second referendum early next year where voters will have a simple choice between the new design and the existing flag.

It’s a logical process, and it’s a fair process. It will be up to the people of New Zealand to decide whether they want to change the flag.

You can find out more and take part in the discussion at www.flag.govt.nz or www.standfor.co.nz

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