Northland Maori have asked the Waitangi Tribunal to hold an urgent hearing to stop the flag change process, claiming iwi have not been properly consulted over the contentious issue.

The Government is running two referendums on changing the flag that are expected to cost up to $26 million. The Flag Consideration Project has just completed its roadshow, outlining the process and asking people to submit ideas for a new flag. The first referendum will be held in November or December to decide on which alternative flag design will be chosen.

The second referendum in March next year will decide between the present flag and the preferred alternative.

But Haami Piripi, on behalf of himself and the iwi of Te Rarawa, Rihari Dargaville, on behalf of himself and the Tai Tokerau District Maori Council, and Cletus Maanu Paul, on behalf of himself and the Mataatua District Maori Council, have applied to the Waitangi Tribunal seeking an urgent hearing on the issue.

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The claimants say they are suffering, and will continue to suffer, significant and irreversible prejudice by the Crown's failure to appropriately engage with Maori when deciding to initiate the flag change process.

In their application, they say the Crown has failed to recognise their mana, tino rangatiratanga and the Aotearoa/New Zealand flag as their taonga; failed to actively protect their taonga, namely their tino rangatiratanga and the Aotearoa/New Zealand flag; failed to uphold the principles of good-faith partnership when initiating the flag change process that could eventuate in a change of the Aotearoa/New Zealand flag; and failed to appropriately engage with Maori, including them, in the decision to initiate the flag change process in relation to the Aotearoa/New Zealand flag.

"A flag is a fundamental symbol, at both a national and international level, of sovereignty and a powerful indication of nationhood. It is inextricably linked with the sovereignty of a nation, which is often based on, and arises out of, various important historical and constitutional events," the claimants said.

"In Aotearoa/New Zealand, since the signing of te Tiriti/the Treaty in 1840, rightly or wrongly, the tino rangatiratanga and accompanying flag of the claimants has been given, albeit without the requisite agreement of the claimants, formal expression under the umbrella of the Crown in Aotearoa/New Zealand."

They submit that, given their legal status as tangata whenua and partner of the British Crown, any flag of New Zealand is a taonga, as found in Article 2 of the Maori version of the Treaty.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, who is the minister overseeing the process, said Mr English was disappointed by the action, given that meetings about the issue had been held up and down the country, including in Northland. It was too early to say if the application would delay the process.