Momentum for change

As the ashes of the flag referendum are raked over for perhaps a few more days, the questions are already being asked about where to next for New Zealand.

The New Zealand flag will remain as it is with a majority deciding it was best to keep the current flag instead of replacing it with the Kyle Lockwood alternative.

The result, however, was closer than expected, as a substantial silent minority stumped up at the last minute to make the result not completely convincing.

Prime Minister John Key, not known for misreading the political mood of the country, misjudged the timing of holding a referendum to replace the flag.

He alienated large swathes.

The choices were more about Mr Key than the actual changing of the flag.

The Left opposed change in large part because they could see a rare defeat for the Prime Minister in the offing.

Those on the Right, who supported Mr Key but wanted the flag retained, held their noses and voted that way.

But the 43% who wanted a change cannot be ignored.

There was no urgency to change the flag.

The time was not right.

Small numbers attended the flag workshops around the country and most of the energy and passion seemed to come from the Left.

Mr Key seemed to lack enthusiasm himself in the campaign.

Instead of promoting change at every opportunity, he eventually passed the role to Finance Minister Bill English who is not known for his wholesale enthusiasm about anything other than returning the Crown accounts to surplus.

There are suggestions the silver fern will be on show at the Rio Olympics later this year.

Many of the athletes will be wearing a silver fern on their uniforms and if athletes want to drape themselves in a silver fern, let them make that choice and not have it forced upon them.

But where to now for this country?

There have been calls for a debate about nationhood and whether it is time for New Zealand to become a republic.

That is a debate New Zealand is not ready to have - and will not be ready to have for some considerable time.

The dangers of a debate about nationhood include it being overtaken by radicals who are committed to one result and one result only.

New Zealanders need to be taken along for the journey and, quite frankly, Kiwis do not seem ready.

New Zealand does not yet have the political will to change.

A suggestion the debate be timed to coincide with the new governor-general's term has merit, as does the suggestion the move to a republic be held until Queen Elizabeth II dies.

New Zealanders would need to feel passionate about whether the country has a president and whether that person is elected by a majority of voters or appointed by politicians.

Examples around the world of elected presidents, plus a prime minister and elected government, are not always shining.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei summed up what many were thinking when Dame Patsy Reddy was named last week by Mr Key as the next governor-general.

Mrs Turei believes Mr Key should have consulted other parties and a 75% majority in Parliament should be the minimum required before a governor-general is appointed.

New Zealanders, as a generalisation, are feeling uncomfortable about their politicians - as though despite voting for them, there is a distinct lack of trust.

Whether an elected president, over an appointed one, can come close to building the trust by 2021, as suggested, is a moot point.

It would probably be another layer of expensive bureaucracy New Zealanders would have every right to see as cynical.

Building momentum for change needs to spread from the grass roots of New Zealand upwards, not from the Beehive down.

Communities need to build the momentum for change if it is to be universally accepted.

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