Iconic Kiwi businessman Lloyd Morrison did not live to see the realisation of his nationalistic campaign but he would have been pleased to see New Zealanders now have four new options to weigh up should the vote be in favour of changing the flag.
The "Silver Fern (Black & White)" design by Alofi Kanter, which was unveiled yesterday, is among the options revealed by the Flag Consideration Panel, and is the nearest to the design that Morrison commissioned more than a decade ago to symbolise his campaign. It's also the one that Prime Minister John Key and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw favour. And with the Rugby World Cup pending it will resonate strongly with the public.
Morrison's own alternative flag - which was designed by Cameron Sanders from Cato Partners - was flown at half-mast at the Wellington Town Hall during his funeral; another was draped over his casket.
At the service, Rob Morrison said his brother felt strongly that New Zealand needed a new flag - "it's a debate that needs to continue".
John Key also spoke at the funeral and later committed to take up the cause.
Critics have slammed the upcoming referendum as a Cabinet-designed "bread and circuses" exercise. It certainly is a welcome distraction from the current - but quite pointless - focus on whether New Zealand is heading towards recession.
But there is a serious point to it. If the nation does ultimately vote in favour of a flag change there will be the potential to mark out the country's identity in a more compelling fashion through the subsequent international and national rebranding exercise.
This will involve changing flags throughout the country and in embassies around the world, re-flagging NZ ships and even changing drivers' licences.
When the Justice Department was tossed the delicate question of quantifying the financial costs and benefits of a new flag design, it said "there may be benefits to New Zealand's brand which could assist New Zealand's export industry and tourism, and that a factor in the decision to change the flag is whether there are net benefits in change".
"However, the benefits are difficult to quantify and are dependent on the design of the flag, so giving an indication of the range of costs is all that can be done at this point."
The sums are paltry. It comes down to replacing all existing flags and defence uniforms and reflagging NZ Government ships and replacing the flag on drivers' licences. The department did not cost the publicity for the celebrations of a new flag; nor that to flag and souvenir manufacturers or for sporting codes that could be affected.
The major cost impacts would appear to be for trademarks.
NZ Trade & Enterprise uses the trademarked FernMark design as part of its corporate brand (as do a number of Government agencies including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The FernMark appears on a range of merchandise, signage, and websites and is widely used as the recognisable symbol for New Zealand in offshore promotions.
Three of the four options presented yesterday incorporate the silver fern. If one of those options is chosen, NZTE will have to decide whether the FernMark would need to change to match the new design. The Justice Department says this would require a new set of brand standards but if the new flag design is significantly different to the FernMark then it may be decided to retain that as the consistent brand symbol.
The real value from a flag change is intangible.
Key has wasted no opportunity to soft-pedal the flag cause in recent months. Many business people can chalk up on the fingers of one hand and sometimes two the number of times that the Prime Minister has taken audiences through his spiel at charity bashes, awards dinners and other celebrations.
Key does over-egg the amount of support his campaign attracts. But where he scores points in the business sector is with his rationale that a new flag is an opportunity to build patriotism and pride in the nation.
Morrison held broader views when he launched his campaign in 2003.
He later set up the NZFlag.com trust which has many supporters from the business sector, among them Mighty River Power chairwoman Joan Withers, professional director Dame Patsy Reddy, Christchurch businessman Humphrey Rolleston, Peter Biggs, Refining NZ chairman Simon Allen, Investment banker Scott St John and MediaWorks chief executive Mark Weldon.
Finance Minister Bill English and Cabinet colleague Hekia Parata are also among the supporters. Damien O'Connor is the sole Labour politician listed.
The trustees are former NZTE chairman John Mayson and former Morrison & Co executive Paul Ridley-Smith. The trust reckoned the silver fern was the strongest and most representative symbol of all New Zealanders.
"While it has strong representation as a sports symbol it has been widely used in many ways historically.The colours black and white were chosen for their powerful simplicity and their connection with and roots in New Zealand. We believe they are contemporary colours and in the context of world flags would give the New Zealand flag great distinction," the trust said.
The trust believed the job of the flag is "visibility, instant recognition and emotional cut-through".
"Our belief is that the stylised silver fern does the strongest job of satisfying the greatest number of New Zealanders at any one time," it noted.
Key also believes a new flag will energise New Zealand and increase the nation's moves towards self-determination.
Kanter's Silver Fern flag design marks a total break from the past by jettisoning the Union Jack and the stars of the Southern Cross.
It's notable that two of the other options incorporate the southern cross; the fourth is based on the koru.
Only two options make a total change from the past. But the Silver Fern is the more compelling.
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