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Flag of New Zealand

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New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand.svg
Use National flag and state ensign National flag and state ensign Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
Proportion 1:2
Adopted 24 March 1902
In use since 1869
Civil Ensign of New Zealand.svg
Variant flag of New Zealand
Use Civil ensign Civil ensign Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
Proportion 1:2
Naval Ensign of New Zealand.svg
Variant flag of New Zealand
Use Naval ensign War ensign Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
Proportion 1:2
Air Force Ensign of New Zealand.svg
Variant flag of New Zealand
Name Ensign of the Royal New Zealand Air Force
Proportion 1:2
Design A field of air force blue with the Union Flag in the canton and the Royal Air Force roundel defaced with the letters "NZ" in the fly
The flag pole at Waitangi, flying (left - right) the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Ensign of the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Union Flag, 5 February 2006.

The flag of New Zealand is a defaced Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and four red stars with white borders to the right. The stars represent the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross.

New Zealand's first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, was adopted before New Zealand became a British colony. Chosen by an assembly of Māori chiefs in 1834, the flag was of a St George's Cross with another cross in the canton containing four stars on a blue field. After the formation of the colony in 1841, British ensigns began to be used. The current flag was designed and adopted for restricted use in 1869 and became the national flag in 1902. It is the British Blue Ensign, incorporating a stylised representation of the Southern Cross showing the four brightest stars in the constellation. Each star varies slightly in size. The Union Flag in the canton recalls New Zealand's colonial ties to Britain.[1]

The flag proportion is 1:2 and the colours are red (Pantone 186C), blue (Pantone 280C) and white.[1] Proportion and colours are identical to the Union Flag.


Flag of the United Tribes

The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when the trading ship Sir George Murray, built in the Hokianga, was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand was not a colony at the time and had no flag. Among the passengers on the ship were two high-ranking Māori chiefs, believed to be Patuone and Taonui. The ship's detainment was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.[2]

The first flag of New Zealand was adopted on 9 March 1834 by a vote made by the United Tribes of New Zealand, a meeting of Māori chiefs convened at Waitangi by British resident James Busby. The United Tribes later made the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand at Waitangi in 1835. Three flags were proposed, all designed by the missionary Henry Williams, who was to play a major role in the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The chiefs rejected two other proposals which included the Union Flag, in favour of a modified St George's Cross or the White Ensign, which was the flag used by Henry Williams on the Church Missionary Society ships.[3] [4] This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand [5] and was officially gazetted in New South Wales in August 1835, with a general description not mentioning fimbriation or the number of points on the stars.[6] The need for a flag was pressing, not only because New Zealand-built ships were being impounded in Sydney for not flying a national flag, but also as a symbol of the independence declared by the Māori chiefs.

The flag is still flown on the flag pole at Waitangi, and can be seen on Waitangi Day.[3]

Union Flag

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the British Union Flag was used, although the former United Tribes flag was still used by a number of ships from New Zealand and in many cases on land. The New Zealand Company settlement at Wellington, for example, continued to use the United Tribes flag until ordered to replace it by Governor William Hobson in May 1840 (following his declaration of British sovereignty).[7][3]

Flags based on defaced Blue ensign

The first flag of New Zealand to be based on the British blue ensign was introduced in 1867 following the Colonial Navy Defence Act 1865, which required all ships owned by colonial governments fly the defaced Royal Navy blue ensign with a Colonial badge. New Zealand did not have a Colonial badge, or indeed a Coat of Arms of its own at this stage, and so the letters "NZ" were simply added to the blue ensign.

The current flag was introduced in 1869. It was initially used only on government ships, but was adopted as the de facto national flag in a surge of patriotism arising from the Second Boer War in 1902. To end confusion between various designs of the flag, the Liberal Government passed the Ensign and Code Signals Bill, which was approved by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902, declaring the flag as New Zealand's national flag. The United Tribes flag design also features on the back of the Second Boer War medals presented to soldiers who served in the war,[8] which indicates that the United Tribes flag was used widely in New Zealand until around this time.


The national flag is officially defined in the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981. Section 5(2) declares it to be "the symbol of the Realm, Government, and people of New Zealand."[9] This law, like most other laws, can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament.

Entrenchment proposal

In March 1994 the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger made statements supporting a move towards a New Zealand republic.[10] In response Christian Democrat MP Graeme Lee introduced a Flags, Anthems, Emblems, and Names Protection Amendment Bill.[11] If passed, the Bill would have entrenched the Act that governs the flag and added New Zealand's anthems, requiring a majority of 65 percent of votes in Parliament before any future legislation could change the flag. The Bill passed its first reading but was defeated at its second reading, 26 votes to 37.

New Zealand flag debate

Debate on keeping or changing the New Zealand Flag started before November 1979 when the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet, suggested that the design of the flag should be changed, and sought an artist to design a new flag with a silver fern on the fly. The proposal attracted little support however.[12] In 1998 Prime Minister Jenny Shipley backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for the flag to be changed. Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national silver fern flag, using a white silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag, along the lines of the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag. On 5 August 2010 Labour list MP Charles Chauvel introduced a members Bill for a consultative commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag.[13]

Similar flags

The Australian flag is similar to the flag of New Zealand, both having the Union Flag in the canton and the Southern Cross on the fly. However, the cross on the New Zealand flag is composed of red stars each with a white outline and has only four stars with five points each. The Australian flag has six white stars, five of which have seven points (the Commonwealth Star) and a five pointed star, Epsilon Crucis, the smaller star of the Southern Cross constellation. Australia's flag features the Commonwealth Star below the Union Flag, which the New Zealand flag lacks as it is a symbol of Australia.

Many other flags also contain the Southern Cross.


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Flags". Ministry of Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). 23 July 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  2. "Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1834-1840)". History of the New Zealand Flag. New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2007-02-16. Without a flag to represent the new nation, trading ships and their valuable cargoes would continue to be seized 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "'United Tribes flag'". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. 19 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-26.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "nzhistory" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Caroline Fitzgerald (2011). Te Wiremu - Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5.  231
  5. "New Zealand History - 'United Tribes flag'". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 20 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  6. "His Excellency the Governor is pleased to direct it to be notified, for general information, that a Despatch has recently been received from the Right Honorable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, conveying His Majesty's approbation of an arrangement made by this Government for complying with the wishes of the Chiefs of New Zealand to adopt a National Flag in their collective capacity, and also, of the Registrar of Vessels, built in that country, granted by the Chiefs and certified by the British Resident, being considered as valid instruments, and respected as such in the intercourse which those Vessels may hold with the British Possessions. The following is a description of the Flag which has been adopted: A Red St. George's Cross on a White ground. In the first quarter, a Red St. George's Cross on a Blue ground, pierced with four white stars."
  7. Simpson, K. A. "Hobson, William - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 3 April 2011. 
  8. Harris, Ted. "Medals of New Zealand". Medals. Digger History. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 'The edge of the reverse of the medal reads "Success to New Zealand Contingent 1899-1900" and the flag depicted appears to be the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, chosen by northern Maori in 1834' 
  9. Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981, Public Act 1981 No 47, Date of assent: 15 October 1981, Reprint as at 1 October 2008,
  10. Lua error in ...nsions/Scribunto/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  11. Lua error in ...nsions/Scribunto/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  12. "New Zealand - Proposals for a new flag". Flags of the World. 29 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  13. "Bill advocates consultative debate on new flag". 5 August 2010. 

External links

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