New Zealand Flag Debate: Final Four Designs Chosen Before National Vote

Image: Four designs in final round of flag contest
The final four designs for a new New Zealand flag, Silver Fern (Black and White), Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue), Koru and Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue). NZ Flag Consideration Panel / NZ Flag Consideration Panel via EPA

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By Alastair Jamieson

Four new flags were chosen by an expert panel Tuesday as New Zealanders prepare to vote on a new national design — but there was a mostly disappointed public response to the “dreary” selection.

They are finalists in a government-backed competition that saw members of the public submit more than 10,300 possible alternatives to the current Union Flag with Southern Cross constellation.

Those in favor of a change argue that the British Commonwealth country's current flag, which dates from 1902, too closely resembles that of arch-rival Australia.

However, one of the most popular national symbols — a plain silver fern on a black background — is missing from the finalists despite being the option preferred by Prime Minister John Key. The plain fern is already used by the All Blacks national rugby team, the national armed forces and Air New Zealand.

An All Blacks fan holds a flag featuring the Silver Fern.WILLIAM WEST / AFP/Getty Images, file

Two of the final four are by the same designer, Kyle Lockwood, and one features the koru, the curving Maori pattern based on the shape of an unfurling fern frond.

Three of the four feature a stylized fern alongside other images including the Southern Cross.

“Such a lost opportunity,” wrote Twitter user Rowan Simpson.

“It’s like trying to choose NZ’s best wine from a lineup of anodyne house blends,” wrote another, Jeremy Hansen.

The four will be put to a public vote in a binding referendum in November or December. A second referendum, in 2016, will be a run-off between the current flag and the preferred alternative.

However, some called for the process to be abandoned.

“Looking at the uninspiring final four designs unveiled this morning it's tempting just to flag the whole flag changing thing and move on,” commentator Karl Puschmann wrote in the New Zealand Herald, calling the final four a “dreary selection.”

“We were given the once in a lifetime chance to reinvent ourselves, to assert ourselves, to rally behind a symbol that showed the world who we are and what we stand for. It's nothing short of a national disgrace that the same flag clipart eats up half of the available final slots.”

TV3 journalist Brook Sabin said: “I'm sorry — but for New Zealand to consider a flag change without the plain silver fern defies belief.”

Others pointed out the the stylized fern design was not physically accurate.

A new flag would not change New Zealand's status as a British commonwealth country.

Inevitably, the user-submitted process attracted some quirky entries, including one with the national bird, the Kiwi, making laser eyes, another with an upside-down "down under" Kiwi and a third that mimicked New Zealanders' distinctive accent with a picture of popular dish "fush and chups."