Well-known New Zealanders weigh in on their preferred alternate design

A new flag featuring a silver fern has the backing of some of New Zealand's most distinguished individuals.

Designs with a silver fern are early favourites in an online poll - although the leading flags also retain the Southern Cross.

The long-list of 40 designs has stirred debate, with well-known New Zealanders among those weighing in on their preferred design.

Some are supportive of a change, but others such as former All Black Josh Kronfeld have labelled the push for a new flag "ridiculous", and Labour has continued its opposition during debate in Parliament.

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"All the service people that have died under the flag ... it doesn't make sense to me," Kronfeld told the Herald.

"I've never talked to anyone that has complained about it. It has already cost us millions ... spend that on something else."

On social media some complained the designs looked like corporate logos, and Gareth Morgan, writing on his blog, said they featured various slices of kiwiana, "much as one would expect on a tea towel that tourists take home".

Dame Catherine Tizard, a member of the Order of New Zealand, is one who is strongly supporting a change.

Dame Catherine Tizard.
Dame Catherine Tizard.
Josh Kronfeld.
Josh Kronfeld.
Sir Peter Gluckman.
Sir Peter Gluckman.

"It's a nuisance that ours is so like Australia that foreigners, and most New Zealanders, can't tell them apart.

"You can't stay with the same thing forever and New Zealand has changed very much. We have our own exclusive identity now."

Her choice would be either of the two flags with a silver fern on a black background.

Another Order of New Zealand member, scientist Sir Peter Gluckman, said he liked the "Silver Fern (White, Black and Red)" design. He also liked the koru designs, in particular the "Unity Koru".

Sir Peter said none of the designs were as striking as the Canadian maple leaf or the Japanese flag, but he supported a change.

"The more people are thinking about it, the more people are realising that if you get away from the silliness over cost and the process, that there's something here that is valuable to do."

A black, white and blue flag design featuring the silver fern is the frontrunner for an alternative New Zealand flag in a Herald poll.

The flag, designed by Kyle Lockwood, had been chosen by 18 per cent of around 3000 voters in the unscientific online survey, as of yesterday. The same flag design with red, white and blue, also by Mr Lockwood, picked up 15 per cent of the vote. (Because of a glitch, people were able to vote for only the new flags, not the existing one.)

Those two flags are by far the most popular out of designs selected by a panel from more than 10,000 submissions.

The panel is tasked with whittling down the shortlist to four designs for the first referendum in November and December. Prime Minister John Key originally supported the silver fern with a black background, but changed his mind when it was compared to the Islamic State flag. He now prefers Mr Lockwood's red, white and blue flag.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he had not picked a favourite. He did not plan to vote in the referendum because he felt it was not the time to be spending $26 million on a flag.

The legislation which paved the way for the flag referendum returned to Parliament yesterday. After the alternative design is chosen, voters will be asked to choose between it and the existing flag in March.