Lisa Owen: You might say that choosing a new flag hasn't exactly got off to a flying start. Criticism of the $26 million referendum price tag, low turnout at public meetings and international headlines questioning the quality of the would-be replacements have dominated discussion. Economist Gareth Morgan was so concerned, his foundation launched a competition to try and flush out genuine and worthy new designs. That competition closes on Monday. Shortly, we'll talk to John Burrows, the chair of the official flag-consideration panel, but first, Morgan Foundation general manager Geoff Simmons has a sneak peek of their favourites for us. Good morning.
Geoff Simmons: Morning, Lisa.
Tell me, what kind of response have you guys had to your competition?
Simmons: Really good. People have been engaging in a really positive fashion. We haven't had any kiwis with rainbows coming out the back, which is great, and they've really looked at the design brief that we've set out, which is all about honouring the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi. You know, New Zealand being a bicultural, now multicultural nation. Really, where people agree to share the land and look after each other, and it's a positive thing.
But why set up your own competition, when basically the government is going through an official process to find a new flag?
Simmons: Well, as you said, the official competition got some negative press, and we think it's a good process to be doing; to be looking at this thing. So we wanted to help raise the profile, help flush out some genuine designers to really put their focus and efforts on to it. But the main thing was around honouring the Treaty. We think a lot of the designs haven't been taking that into consideration, and we as the Morgan Foundation think that's what we should be standing for as a nation. That, you know, honouring the spirit of the Treaty, seeing that as our founding document, and so— But, you know, none of us can draw. We're all economists and researchers. So that's why we really wanted to get some designers to help us come up with some genuine contenders that brought that Treaty aspect into it.
Do you think it's a big deal that the official panel, which has got 12 people sitting on it, they choose the four that people will vote on. Is it a big deal that there's not a designer on that panel?
Simmons: Oh, I think they've had a bit of criticism for that, but my understanding is that they've called in some designers to help advise them. So I think that's a positive step.
Okay, well, your competition doesn't shut until midnight on Monday, but today we're going to have a look at some of the ones that are your favourites so far. So let's bring them up on screen now. The first one we're looking at, that is a Kyle Lockwood design.
Simmons: Yes, that's kind of the classic Kyle Lockwood design. And you can see all of the colours there represented, sort of the red, white and blue of the old flag and the black, white and red of, you know, Maoridom.
Okay, let's go to the second one, which is called Kotahitanga – Unity. Okay, again, nobody's kind of going wild with the colours, are they?
Simmons: No, no, and the Southern Cross comes out time and time again. People really see that as a symbol of not only the past flag but also something to steer towards, to guide us towards the future.
Okay, let's flick through a couple of the next ones a bit faster, which is that is One Voice – Te Reo Kotahi. Again, similar colours. Next one is Tino Rangatiratanga but with some green.
Simmons: Yeah, absolutely. Green has emerged as the new colour there, really representing our land, of course.
Next one. Let's have a look at this one. It's called Unified New Zealand. That's got a bit much going on for me.
Simmons: It is quite busy, but, you know, the koru comes through in a lot of these designs.
Yeah, and that is a Lukas Kelly design. And number six in your top picks, let's check that one out. That's Unity by Lucie Gordon. That's pretty simple. And I have to say, none of these seem to be a huge leap away from what we've got.
Simmons: No, and I think we need to have some nod to our past but something that actually pulls us together towards the future too. I think that's ideally what we're looking for in a flag.
But you're going forward—the ones that you've chosen are quite conservative.
Simmons: Well, we got designers to help us to choose the final ones when we get the— when the competition closes on Monday night. These are the ones that we, you know, economists like, based on the brief, yeah.
Okay, very briefly, timeframe to choose the winner? When will we know what your top pick is?
Simmons: That will come out on Wednesday.
Okay, thank you. Now, let's turn to John Burrows now. Good morning, John.
John Burrows: Good morning.
Now, you're on the consideration panel, the chair. This is the official gig. Did you see anything you liked in the Morgan Foundation entries?
Burrows: Oh, yes, and most of those are replicated, or very close to it, in the designs that we have as well.
Yeah, okay, well, you've been on tour around the country. Have you got a sense that there is a mood for change in all of this?
Burrows: It's hard to tell. A lot of divided opinion, but we've had a lot of online engagement – over 700,000 visits to our website, which is pretty good, we think. Certainly, some of the public meetings were not as well attended as you might have hoped, but there was also a roadshow in which people could talk to people and information stands, and we talked to 6000 people in that way, so there's been quite good engagement, and we're happy with that.
But your average attendance, though—as you mentioned, a bit disappointing with the public meetings. Average attendance – 29 people. You can't be happy with that.
Burrows: But there's a lot more ways of engaging with the public, and we felt we have to give people the opportunity to engage in the way that they wanted to. Some people are still not happy with computers, and they prefer to talk in person, so that was for them. But most people engaged online, and over 700,000 have done that, so, we're happy with that.
So you don't think that lack of turnout in person reflects a lack of interest?
Burrows: No, I don't. No I don't.
But when I look through the gallery of flags, and we've spent a bit of time doing this over the last few days, of the ones that are being submitted – they're so random. It seems, in some ways, that this is about getting people to just have a go rather than actually coming up with a genuine alternative to what we have.
Burrows: No, I don't think that's right. We've had 6000 designs already with about a week to go, so how many more we'll get, I don't know. But 6000 is a huge range, and among those, the great majority, we think, are really genuine alternatives.
Okay, well, you've talked quite a bit about online engagement. You say that's where—you've gone where people these days engage.
I want to take a look at one particular design – I think we're going to bring it up on our monitor – now, that went viral, the kiwi with the rainbow coming out of its… rear end. Really? Is that the kind of online engagement that is meaningful?
Burrows: I think with any large online engagement, you're going to get some humorous people.
Burrows: You can get a lot of very serious people. But that's very much the exception, that one.
Burrows: And if you go through the 6000 flags, there are some really, really good designs. The great majority are very good efforts indeed.
Okay, let's look at an array of some of the pearlers that we picked out.
Um, that—so here we've got Gonzo. I like to call it Gonzo in the sheepskin cape. He looks like he's got a bit of a hangover. And if we roll through some of these – there we go, laser kiwi. Another one. And, I think we might have one more, or is that all of the ones that we've got? Oh yeah. The bicycle. Someone taking a spin on their… They're jokey, aren't they?
Burrows: Yeah, of course.
A lot of stuff online.
Burrows: And some of them too are from schoolchildren; we have to remember that.
Burrows: And if young children put something in, we owe it to them to publicise it.
And I suppose that's great that you're engaging young people in this, but what we're really looking for is a serious alternative, isn't it?
Burrows: Oh, yes, and out of 6000 flags, well over 5000 are of a very high quality, we believe.
And you think—
Burrows: And a lot of them are not at all like the ones Geoff has shown us this morning.
So, do you think, in what you have seen, and the reaction that you've got, that there really is a mandate for the Government to push on with this process?
Burrows: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Why do you say that?
Burrows: Simply because we have that number of designs already – we'll have more. We'll have to narrow it down to four, which is a huge undertaking, I can tell you, but we'll have design advice doing that, artist advice, herald-of-arms' advising us.
Burrows: And out of that, we'll get four really genuine alternatives. And in the end, they'll be run off against each other, and one will be picked as the alternative, and that will then be run off against the current New Zealand flag next March. The public will have a real choice, there's no question about that.
Going to put you on the spot, John Burrows. Are you going to vote for change?
Burrows: I don't know. If I did, I wouldn't tell you.
Ever the diplomat.
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