Prime Minister John Key has weighed in with his opinion on the four potential national flag options announced today.
The independent Flag Consideration Panel of 12 Kiwis released the final contenders at Te Papa this morning.
The four designs were chosen from a longlist of 40, which had been whittled down by the independent panel of 12 from the more than 10,000 submissions.
Mr Key has already chosen his favourite designs – both belonging to Kyle Lockwood, who is based in Melbourne.
"It was a big surprise," says Mr Lockwood. "I only thought that one might get through, but two is an incredible achievement."
Mr Key picked the two flags because both feature the silver fern.
"The world knows that symbol because it's on the breast of every athlete and sports team that we have. I like the Southern Cross because I think it's got the connection with the old flag," he says. While three of the designs feature the silver fern, some are angry that the iconic silver fern used for New Zealand's sports teams wasn't included.
Flag panel chair John Burrows says they wanted a flag that represented all New Zealanders – not just sports fans.
"It was certainly a start and we looked very closely at it, just in the end we thought these other flags showed rather more and showed that the silver fern is more than just a sporting icon."
Flag panellist Beatrice Faumuina was flag bearer at the 2004 Olympics, but is now backing a change.
"I think it's something we can own, it's also part of the story-telling. You listen to the flag designers and you hear about the essence of New Zealand and what it's like to be Kiwi."
The first referendum, to be held between November and December, will allow eligible voters the chance to pick their favourite of the four designs, the most popular of which will go head-to-head in a run-off with the current New Zealand flag in another referendum next year.
By Patrick Gower
In what is a huge call, the classic All Blacks flag has been left out of the options for a new New Zealand flag.
It is quite a shock: I was certain a plain silver fern on a black background would be among the final four.
So what happened?
Well, it is important to note that this wasn't an independent decision by the flag panel - John Key and the Cabinet had to sign off the final four yesterday.
That means the omission of the classic silver fern has the Government's say-so.
Key and Cabinet could have simply said: "Where is the classic All Blacks silver fern?"
It is a big decision to go ahead without it as an option so the flag panel and Cabinet obviously have a plan.
In fact, the omission looks to be a highly strategic decision.
Key obviously needs a change - his political pride is on the line.
He gave up on the classic silver fern a while ago and is now pushing one of the Kyle Lockwood composite-compromise examples to win.
Remember, to win the four-way run off you only need about 25 percent of the vote - if the classic All Blacks flag was in there it probably would have won that because of all the sports fans out there.
But at that final stage where 50 percent of the vote is needed, would it have struggled to get the wider cross-section of Kiwis because of an attitude that it was just a sports flag? Would people have felt alienated that it was the All Blacks flag?
Maybe it would have lacked that cross-over appeal to beat out the current flag and change would have failed.
So that looks to be the tactic here - keep the classic All Blacks flag out altogether so one of the compromise options could get through and have the best chance of knocking off the current flag.
The problem is the compromise options may be seen as underwhelming too.
Remember, Key has come up against a very powerful force in New Zealand - the Kiwi "Yeah, Nah" attitude.
Will Kiwis turn off the compromise flag or will they galvanise? That's the $26 million question.
It is a gamble for the Prime Minister. The great political salesman now has to pull off a massive political sales job.
Designer: Alofi Kanter, Auckland - flight attendant (51)
Designer's description: Strong and simple, the fern represents our uniqueness as Aotearoa New Zealand and the black and white colours show our "yin and yang".
Comment: "I felt it was important that alternative flags referenced where we have come from, acknowledging that the past informs our present and our future - it is important to find that balance."
Designer: Andrew Fyfe, Wellington - designer and photographer (37)
Designer's description: As our flag unfurls, so too does its koru. The koru represents the fern frond, but it is also reminiscent of a wave, a cloud, and a ram's horn.
Comment: "New Zealand has changed a great deal over the last hundred years and will continue to do so. I was thinking not just about what New Zealand means to me now, but what it means for my kids and what it is going to mean to theirs."
Designer: Kyle Lockwood, Wellington - architectural designer (38)
Designer's description: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, the silver fern has been worn proudly by many generations. The multiple points of the fern lead represent Aotearoa's peaceful multicultural society.
Comment: "What will make the world recognise us, what will make Kiwis proud to carry it and what will bring a tear to your eye when you see it on the podium?"
Designer: Kyle Lockwood
Designer's description: The bright blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders and their ancestors crossed to get here.
3 News / NZN