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New Zealand is considering new designs to potentially replace its national flag and today released an official long list of 40 contenders submitted by the public. Citizens have debated changing the banner, adopted in 1902, for decades, with advocates for alternatives arguing that the current design does not represent the independent country and its unique heritage: the Union Jack occupies its top-left quarter — a reminder of New Zealand’s roots as a British colony — and only the placement and color of the stars of the Southern Cross differentiate it from Australia’s flag. Last year Prime Minister John Key announced a referendum to decide whether or not to change the flag, and an open call for new designs received over 10,000 submissions.
Of the 40 finalists announced today by an official Flag Consideration Panel, only one features an altered rendition of the Union Jack. Most proposals incorporate nationally recognized motifs like the silver fern and the koru, suggesting the government’s dedication to a design that truly celebrates New Zealand’s national identity and heritage. The fern already appears on the country’s coat of arms and its one-dollar coin, not to mention the merchandise of many of its sports teams; the spiral-shape koru, which is Māori for “loop,” celebrates its diverse population, of which nearly 15% identify as being part of the indigenous group.
“A potential new flag should unmistakably be from New Zealand and celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future,” the Panel wrote in a statement.
The designs on the long list are similar in subject, differing mostly in color and arrangement of the motifs, but the Panel did receive some potential pennants that, although truly unique, did not make the cut. Those decisions perhaps rested on the fact that the artists worked with Microsoft Paint, and badly at that — or maybe because sheep, singing eggs, and kiwis with laser-beam eyes aren’t sufficiently visionary or solemn icons to adorn a national flag.
In November, New Zealanders eligible to vote will rank the final four, Panel-selected designs. The country, however, will not immediately adopt the finalist; another public vote, slated for March 2016, will pit the winner against the current flag to determine whether most of the country is, in the end, satisfied with its century-old insignia.