New Zealand is considering changing its flag, and a government-appointed committee has picked 40 favourites from thousands of designs submitted.

The panel reviewed all 10,292 flag designs submitted in July by members of the public and has now announced an official long list of 40 flags. 

The current flag was adopted in 1902. Suggestions for alternative flag designs have been put forward from time to time, but until now there has never been an official public discussion to consider the flag.

Many in New Zealand consider the current flag to be outdated and too similar to Australia's flag. It depicts Britain's Union Jack in the top left corner, which harks back to a colonial past that many New Zealanders are eager to put behind them.

New Zealand sometimes comes under the shadow of Australia, its larger neighbour, and having flags that are almost identical only compounds that problem.

However, there are plenty of New Zealanders who want to keep their current flag. Many veterans fought under the flag and feel a special bond to it. Others simply do not see any need for a change, or see the process - estimated to cost $17m - as too expensive.

Two-step referendum

By law, the flag can be changed by a simple majority of parliament. However, the government has said decisions on the flag should be made by all New Zealanders eligible to vote.

The Flag Consideration Panel will choose four final flag designs by mid-September. New Zealanders will then vote for their favourite among those in a November referendum.

But even then, changing the flag is by no means a certainty. After a favourite alternative flag is chosen, it will be pitted head-to-head with the current flag in a second referendum, to be held next March. 

The New Zealand flag has been changed twice. In 1834 the first flag - now known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand - was chosen by Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Union Flag "Union Jack" became New Zealand’s official flag. The New Zealand Ensign was officially adopted in 1902.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies