WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand is considering changing its flag. The public was encouraged to come up with ideas, and submitted more than 10,000 designs. A government-appointed panel has winnowed those down to 40 finalists.
A look at the flag flap:
Many in New Zealand consider the current flag to be outdated and too similar to Australia's flag. It depicts Britain's Union Jack in the top left corner, which harks back to a colonial past that many New Zealanders are eager to put behind them. New Zealand sometimes comes under the shadow of Australia, its larger neighbor, and having flags that are almost identical only compounds that problem.
However, there are plenty of New Zealanders who want to keep their current flag. Many veterans fought under the flag and feel a special bond to it. Others simply don't see any need for a change, or view the process as an expensive stunt initiated by Prime Minister John Key to distract from more pressing issues.
Almost all of the 40 finalists feature one of three design elements, or a combination of them: the koru, the silver fern and the Southern Cross.
The koru is a spiral symbol that was often used in indigenous Maori art. It depicts an unfurling fern frond. It also has metaphorical meanings, suggesting perpetual movement and the circular nature of life. It is featured on many things, from tattoo designs to Air New Zealand's logo.
The silver fern is the koru unfurled. Native ferns are found throughout New Zealand forests and the silver fern is noted for its striking appearance. Even more than the koru, the silver fern has become a national symbol, and is worn by many of the country's sports teams, including the beloved All Blacks rugby team.
The Southern Cross is a distinctive star constellation visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Unlike the koru and silver fern, the Southern Cross is featured on the current flag.
In choosing the finalists, the government panel said in an open letter that it kept the following in mind:
"A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory. A great flag is timeless and communicates swiftly and potently the essence of the country it represents. A flag should carry sufficient dignity to be appropriate for all situations in which New Zealanders might be represented. It should speak to all Kiwis."
The panel said that in reviewing the designs it was guided by what thousands of New Zealanders said they thought was special about their country. The panel also consulted Maori cultural experts, as well as flag and design experts.
Some people are concerned the 40 designs are too similar and not artistically ambitious enough. Others worry they look too much like corporate logos, are too complicated or don't tell a strong enough story.
A humorous column in The Sydney Morning Herald was titled "New Zealand has 40 ideas for a new flag — and they're awful." Journalist Michael Koziol posed the question: "Is there a worse act of collective torture than a nation changing its flag? It takes forever, you have to consult everyone under the sun, and nobody can agree on anything anyway."
Many New Zealanders have also criticized the cost of the process to taxpayers: 26 million New Zealand dollars ($17 million).
The Flag Consideration Panel will choose four final flag designs by mid-September. New Zealanders will then vote for their favorite among those in a November referendum.
But even then, changing the flag is by no means a certainty. After a favorite alternative flag is chosen, it will be pitted head-to-head with the current flag in a second referendum, to be held next March. Only then will New Zealanders decide whether they'll get a new flag.