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 (Number 5), has been chosen by 18 per cent of around 3000 voters in the unscientific online survey.

The same flag design with different colours (6), also by Mr Lockwood, has picked up 15 per cent of the vote.

READ MORE: Forty flags, and only one with a Union Jack - so which one is best?

Advertisement

Those two flags are by far the most popular out of the 40 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.

The highest polling flag that did not follow Mr Lockwood's design is the "Black Jack" (25), which includes a Union Jack made out of koru designs and has received 5 per cent of the vote.

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's flag.

He said today he preferred Mr Lockwood's red, white and blue design (5).

Labour leader Andrew Little said he had a brief glance at the shortlist but has not picked a favourite.

He did not plan to vote in the referendum because he felt it was not the time for Government to be spending $26 million on a flag.

Some of New Zealand's most distinguished individuals also favoured a national flag with a silver fern.

Dame Catherine Tizard, a member of the Order of New Zealand, said her choice would be either of the two flags with a silver fern on a black background (9 and 11).

"Foreigners will think it's a white feather but oh well," she said. "The silver fern does pick up some tradition."Another Order of New Zealand member, scientist Sir Peter Gluckman, said he liked the "Silver Fern (White, Black and Red)" design (8).

"That appeals to me very much as being a good flag for New Zealand. I certainly think it is far superior to the current flag."

He also liked the koru designs, in particular the "Unity Koru" (21).

The legislation which paved the way for the flag referendum returned to Parliament this afternoon.

During the often-heated debate, National MPs singled out the Labour Party for changing its position and opposing a flag referendum.

"Only nine months [ago] they campaigned at the election saying they wanted to change the flag," Housing Minister Nick Smith said.

"And then they come to this House and say we should never change the flag. There is a simple message - they lack integrity, they are untrustworthy, they are duplicitous."

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway defended his party's change of heart, saying public opinion had turned against the referenda because of their high cost at a time when the economy was beginning to wobble.

New Zealand First MP Denis O'Rourke took a shot at the shortlisted designs, saying they were "gaudy", "rubbish" and not fit to replace the current flag.

After the alternative design is chosen, voters will be asked to vote between the winning design and the existing national flag in March.

Editor's note: Throughout the day we ran this poll, unfortunately there was a technical issue with the voting mechanism for our existing New Zealand flag. As such, we did not count votes for keeping the current flag.