The Government has more important things to do than start a debate on whether New Zealand needs a new flag, Prime Minister John Key said today.

The New Zealand Herald said today it was time for a new flag after half of the members of the Order of New Zealand said they thought it was time to change it.

Our newspaper spoke to 18 of the 22 people in the order and 11 said it was time for a new flag, five said it wasn't, one was unsure and another declined to give an opinion.

Mr Key said a new flag was not on the Government's agenda.

"I think the thing with the flag is that is a very emotional issue for a variety of reasons," Mr Key said.

"New Zealanders have a variety of views... and for the Government to set its focus on whether we need a new New Zealand flag I think would be a very foolish thing to do when you are trying to deal with big international economic issues."

A 2008 Nielsen poll for North & South magazine in 2008 found only 25 per cent support for changing the flag.

Order member Sir Brian Lochore said the New Zealand flag was too similar to the Australian flag and supporters at sports events waved the silver fern flag.

Former prime minister Jim Bolger said even officials sometimes got the two flags confused: "On the commemoration of the landing in Europe at the end of the Second World War, the Australian high commissioner in London walked down off the podium and picked up the New Zealand flag and proudly carried it off," he said.

"When I got down, I picked up the Australian one because that was the only one that was left. These things can happen; there is a similarity to them."

June, Lady Blundell, widow of governor-general Sir Denis, opposed a change "because of the many lives we have lost fighting under the flag".

Former prime minister Mike Moore and former Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon both warned against rushing into change without debate on wider constitutional issues and public support. "These things are evolutionary and you have got to take people with you," Sir Don said.

- NZPA