Flag vote: How did it come to this?

Flag vote: How did it come to this?

Should we? Shouldn't we? What should it look like? Who cares?

These are questions New Zealanders face now about our country's flag, but it's also a quandary we've faced as a nation before.

As New Zealanders decide which of two flags will represent us in the future, it marks just the latest episode in the long history of the country's ensign.

The provisional results from part two of the flag referendum will be known tomorrow night, with Kiwis having put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard posting their fair share on social media.  

Voting numbers have already eclipsed the first referendum, which whittled down five shortlisted designs to the official blue and black silver fern alternative.

But how did we come to be at this frontier of democracy, choosing which design will be New Zealand's flag?

The current flag was introduced in 1902, but the United Tribes of New Zealand flag and the Union Jack have previously been used.

Flag vote: How did it come to this?

Things seem pretty stable on the flag front until around the 1960s, when the winds of change started to whistle across the country.

And while the music and fashion has moved on significantly since then, the cited reasons for changing haven't.

They've mostly revolved around the Union Jack contradicting New Zealand's status as a sovereign nation, not representing a multi-cultural society and being too similar to Australia's flag.

And again, much like today, polls since the 1970s have shown a clear majority against a new flag, with supporters of the current flag saying it reflects ties to Britain and veterans fighting under it.

Proposed designs for an alternative flag also date back to the 1960s, with US-born Clark Titman flying this flag from 1967:

Flag vote: How did it come to this?

Prominent designs put forward since then have a recurring theme, such as the Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet suggesting swapping out the Southern Cross with a silver fern in 1979.

There were others submitted between the 1980s and 1990s and run through media, probably the best known of which is the green koru designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1983.

Flag vote: How did it come to this?


In 1998, the Minister of Cultural Affairs Maria Hasler put forward the idea of a silver fern on a black background -- something current Prime Minister John Key would have been a fan of.

It got a lot of attention and then-Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley was also a fan of it, but National was voted out of office the following year.

The apparent lack of public appetite to change the flag showed itself again in 2004 through a petition by charitable trust NZflag.com, which aimed to get 270,000 signatures for a citizens-initiated referendum; they only got 100,000.

On Waitangi Day 2010, the Maori flag -- tino rangatiratanga -- was flown from the Auckland Harbour Bridge for the first time and also on a number of other nationally significant buildings including Parliament, the Beehive, Te Papa and the National War Memorial.

Fast-forward to March 2014, when Mr Key announced the Government would go through with a referendum to answer the question once and for all.

A cross-party working group was set up, sans New Zealand First, which declined to be part of it, to sort out a process.

Mr Key said the decision on the flag is "bigger than party politics", but it turns out that's what it has been mired in pretty much since day one.

A two-part referendum was decided on and a 12-member Flag Consideration Panel was named to oversee the process.

A longlist of 40 designs was whittled down from the 10,292 public submissions, and was then cut down further to four.

Flag vote: How did it come to this?

Cue controversy.

The chosen quartet was heavily criticised in part because two of them were different colours of the same Kyle Lockwood design. The panel stood by their choices.

An online campaign and a swell of social media support backed a fifth alternative -- Red Peak -- and following a petition, urgent legislation was passed in Parliament to include it on the first ballot.

Flag vote: How did it come to this?

But it came in third in the preferential vote count in the first referendum -- behind both Lockwood flags.

And so began the final flag-off between the current flag and the blue and black silver fern.

Flag vote: How did it come to this?