11 Aug 2015

Many good flag designs cast off, says panel

9:59 am on 11 August 2015

The Government's panel deciding what could be the country's next flag says it had to cast off many very good designs, to whittle down 10,293 submissions to just 40.

Koru, the silver fern, and the southern cross feature heavily, along with the use of black, red, blue, green and white.

Some of them are developments of the existing flag, while others are radical departures.

From this list of 40, just four will be chosen to put to the vote at a referendum.

One of these 40 designs could become New Zealand's new national flag.

One of these 40 designs could become New Zealand's new national flag. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Flag Consideration Panel's chairman, John Burrows, said cutting the list down from thousands to just 40 was not an easy task.

He said the flag should be "unmistakably New Zealand", showing that it is a special and individual country.

"You'll see some themes, certain symbols kept recurring both in the designs and when we talked to people.

"The silver fern, I think, some people see as the symbol by which we're best known throughout the world, the koru is there as well.

"But we've also got some other more abstract ones which also tell a story, and the story tends to be where we've come from - that we are moving forward, and the place we come from," he said.

The Flag Consideration Panel's chairman, Professor John Burrows.

The Flag Consideration Panel's chairman, Professor John Burrows. Photo: Supplied

Anyone upset that their design has not made the final 40 has no way to appeal the panel's decision.

"The 40 that we have is final and we won't be adding to that.

"But you can understand that with such a huge number of designs, a very large number, of course, will be disappointed... some very good flags have missed out too," Professor Burrows said.

The panel used tikanga, art and design experts to provide confidential feedback as they narrowed the list down.

But Haami Piripi of Te Rarawa, who is among a group of Maori who started action at the Waitangi Tribunal to try to halt the flag referendums, said the chosen designs mean little to Maori.

"I don't think it could be argued in any of those flags that the Maori element has been highlighted or specified within the flag to represent this particular indigenous group of people.

"They're all fairly nice looking flags, but I don't think that for any of them you'd be able to say it's a Maori design," Mr Piripi said.

Haami Piripi.

Haami Piripi. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Sven Baker submitted about 200 designs and five of them have made it to the top 40, which he said left him incredibly surprised.

"I have no personal ambition being the author of the flag at all, I'm just fascinated by the process and believe it's the right thing to be doing for the country.

"I'd just like to see a new bold expression of our national identity on the world stage," he said.

Mr Baker is a professional designer. It is people like him that philanthropist Gareth Morgan was targetting when he launched his own design competition.

The winner of that competition, has in turn made it through to the final 40 chosen flags.

Mr Morgan is not convinced by other designs the panel has chosen.

Dr Gareth Morgan.

Dr Gareth Morgan. Photo: Morgan Foundation

"There's about three abstract designs out of the 40... giving it to the public, all you're going to do is get a cut-and-paste of the sort of symbols that we all associate with New Zealand," he said.

Mr Morgan said he found it interesting that the panel has "very heavily" sided with these sorts of designs.

"Of course the public are going to go with what they're familiar with; the southern cross, the silver fern and the koru irrespective of what the actual meaning of the flag is.

"So it's quite a conflict I think - these are sort of almost a set of corporate logos," Mr Morgan said.

RSA still not convinced

RSA president BJ Clark

RSA president BJ Clark Photo: SUPPLIED

The Returned and Services Association said it was maintaining its stance that there should be no change to the New Zealand flag, and that there is no need for "expensive and unnecessary" referendums.

"There will always be some very nice flags, some very nice designs and I'd never take that away from the people that have put a lot of work into those designs.

"However our argument has always been that we have a national flag and that's the one we believe we should maintain," RSA national president BJ Clark said.

Mr Clark said he has not seen public opinion that is "anywhere near" supporting a change of flag, and the RSA will start working on specific strategies to try to keep the New Zealand flag as it is.

The next steps

The chosen designs will now undergo "further robust checks and verification" which will include probes around intellectual property aspects.

Four final flags will be announced by mid September, which will then be ranked by eligible voters in a first referendum later this year.

By the numbers (source: www.flag.govt.nz)

  • 10,292 alternative designs published
  • 850,000+ online visits
  • 6,000+ visits to workshops and information stands
  • 1.18m+ people reached by Facebook
  • 146,000+ views of the NZ flag history video
  • 43,000+ New Zealanders have shared what they stand for (online & via post)
  • Last chance to submit new flag design
  • Flag designs show strong Māori elements
  • Flag Consideration Panel releases document
  • Consultation for possible new flag underway
  • Flag panel's first job is to consult public