The shortlist selected by a government-appointed panel was announced by deputy prime minister Bill English at Wellington’s national museum Te Papa Tongarewa on Tuesday.

Three of the four designs show the national silver fern design which is preferred by prime minister John Key. Of these, two also show the Southern Cross constellation. The fourth design depicts the curving koru Maori symbol.

New Zealanders will now rate the four designs in order of preference in a postal referendum between November 20-December 11. A second referendum in March next year will pitch the preferred alternative against the current flag – which comprises a defaced Blue Ensign with a Union Flag in the top left-hand corner.

If a new flag is selected it will be adopted later in 2016.

The sober-looking shortlist has weeded out some of the more colourful entries for the contest to design a new national flag. These included an abundance of colourful kiwis, numerous comical-looking sheep, and images of the three main characters in the HBO television series ‘Flight of the Conchords’, which was inspired by the New Zealand comedy band of the same name.