Flag of New Zealand

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New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand.svg
UseNational flag and state ensign
Adopted24 March 1902
In use since 1869
DesignA Blue Ensign with the Southern Cross of four red five-pointed stars centred within four white five-pointed stars making eight stars in total with the colours dualing each other on the outer half of the flag.
Designed byAlbert Hastings Markham

The flag of New Zealand (Māori: Te haki o Aotearoa[1]), also known as the New Zealand Ensign,[2] is based on the British maritime Blue Ensign – a blue field with the Union Jack in the canton or upper hoist corner – augmented or defaced with four red stars centred within four white stars, representing the Southern Cross constellation.[3]

The flag of New Zealand flying outside the Beehive in Wellington

New Zealand's first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, was adopted in 1834, six years before New Zealand's separation from New South Wales and creation as a separate colony following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Chosen by an assembly of Māori chiefs at Waitangi 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 1840, British ensigns began to be used. The current flag was designed and adopted for use on the colony's ships in 1869, was quickly adopted as New Zealand's national flag, and given statutory recognition in 1902.

For several decades there has been debate about changing the flag.[4] In 2016, a two-stage binding referendum on a flag change took place with voting on the second final stage closing on 24 March. In this referendum, the country voted to keep the existing flag by 57% to 43%.[5]



The flag of New Zealand uses two prominent symbols:[6]

In its original usage as the flag of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Union Jack combined three heraldic crosses which represent the countries of the United Kingdom (as constituted in 1801):[9]

The Union Jack reflects New Zealand's origins as a British colony.[10]

The Southern Cross constellation is one of the striking features of the Southern Hemisphere sky, and has been used to represent New Zealand, among other Southern Hemisphere colonies, since the early days of European settlement.[11] Additionally, in Māori mythology the Southern Cross is identified as Māhutonga,[12] an aperture in Te Ikaroa (the Milky Way) through which storm winds escaped.[11]


The flag should be rectangular in shape and its length should be two times its width, translating into an aspect ratio of 1:2.[3] It has a royal blue background with a Union Jack in the canton, and four five-pointed red stars centred within four five-pointed white stars on the fly (outer or right-hand side).[6] The exact colours are specified as Pantone 186 C (red), Pantone 280 C (blue), and white.[3] According to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the government department responsible for the flag, the royal blue background is "reminiscent of the blue sea and sky surrounding us", and the stars "signify [New Zealand's] place in the South Pacific Ocean".[3]

Construction sheet
Construction sheet

The notice that appeared in the New Zealand Gazette on 27 June 1902 gave a technical description of the stars and their positions on the New Zealand Ensign:[6]

"The centres of the stars forming the long limb of the cross shall be on a vertical line on the fly, midway between the Union Jack and the outer edge of the fly, and equidistant from its upper and lower edges; and the distance apart of the centres of the stars shall be equal to thirty-six sixtieths the hoist of the ensign.

The centres of the stars forming the short limb of the cross shall be on a line intersecting the vertical limb at an angle of 82 therewith, and rising from near the lower fly corner of the Union Jack towards the upper fly corner of the ensign, its point of intersection with the vertical line being distant from the centre of the uppermost star of the cross twelve-sixtieths of the hoist of the ensign.

The distance of the centre of the star nearest the outer edge of the fly from the point of intersection shall be equal to twelve-sixtieths of the hoist of the ensign, and the distance of the centre of the star nearest the Union Jack from the point of intersection shall be equal to fourteen-sixtieths of the hoist of the ensign.

The star nearest the fly edge of the ensign shall measure five-sixtieths, the star at the top of the cross and that nearest to the Union Jack shall each measure six-sixtieths, and the star at the bottom of the cross shall measure seven-sixtieths of the hoist of the ensign across their respective red points, and the width of the white borders to the several stars shall in all cases be equal to one one-hundred-and-twentieth of the hoist of the ensign."

Flag law and protocol[edit]

The flag flying at half-mast from the Matariki Building at University of Canterbury on the day of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary

The Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 governs the usage of the national flag and all other official flags.[2] This Act, like most other laws, can be amended or repealed by a simple majority in Parliament.[13] Section 5(2) of the Act declares the flag to be "the symbol of the Realm, Government, and people of New Zealand". Section 11(1) outlines two offences: altering the flag without lawful authority, and using, displaying, damaging or destroying the flag in or within view of a public place with the intention of dishonouring it.[2]

The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage has authority to prescribe when and how the flag should be flown and what the standard sizes, dimensions, proportions and colours should be.[14] In its advisory role, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage has issued guidelines to assist persons in their use of the flag. No permission is needed to fly the flag, and it may be flown on every day of the year—government and public buildings with flagpoles are especially encouraged to fly the flag during working hours. However, it should never be flown in a dilapidated condition.[15]

Unlike some other countries there is no single official "Flag Day" in New Zealand, and no pledge of allegiance to the flag.[13] Flag flying may be encouraged on certain commemorative days, at the discretion of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.[15]

The flag can only be used as a vehicle flag by certain high-ranking officeholders, including: the Prime Minister and other ministers; ambassadors and high commissioners (when overseas); and the Chief of Defence Force. In such cases, no distinguishing defacement or fringing of the flag is used.[16]

The flag is flown at half-mast in New Zealand—always at the discretion of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage—to indicate a period of mourning. Notable occasions on which the flag was half-masted include: the death of former prime minister David Lange, and the death and state funeral of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.[17] When the flag is flown at half-mast, it should be lowered to a position recognisably at half-mast to avoid the appearance of a flag which has accidentally fallen away from the top of the flagpole; the flag should be at least its own height from the top of the flagpole.[15]


Flag of the United Tribes[edit]

The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear in 1830 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 detention was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships could continue to be seized.[18]

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 Jack, 5 February 2006

The first flag of New Zealand was adopted 9 (or 20) 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 Jack, 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.[19][20] This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand[21] 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.[note 2]

The United Tribes' flag is still flown on the flag pole at Waitangi, and can be seen on Waitangi Day.[23]

Union Jack[edit]

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Union Jack 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 Governor William Hobson sent a small armed force to Wellington in May 1840 (following his declaration of British sovereignty).[23][24][25]

The Union Jack was described as the "superior flag", to be flown above the New Zealand flag prior to 1965.[26]

Flags based on defaced Blue Ensign[edit]

During the Invasion of the Waikato (July 1863 – April 1864) period of the New Zealand Wars the Imperial British forces realised they needed access to colonial ships to fight Māori. The Colonial government acquired vessels which were staffed by Royal Navy officers but owned by the colonial government. The vessels were under local and not Admiralty control. An armed ship, Victoria, owned by the Colony of Victoria transported reinforcements to New Zealand for the campaign and took part in bombardments of Māori. The British government was concerned about its colonies developing their own navies, not under the control of the Royal Navy's Admiralty.[27]

This led to the British parliament passing the Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865,[28] which allowed the colonial governments to own ships, including for military purposes, but they would have to be under the Royal Navy's command.[29] In 1866 the British Admiralty advised colonies that if they possessed vessels governed by the Act, they must fly the Royal Navy Blue Ensign but that they must also include on the flag the seal or badge of the colony.[30] New Zealand did not have a colonial badge, or indeed a coat of arms of its own at this stage, and so in 1867 the letters "NZ" were simply added to the blue ensign,[31] following a decree by Governor George Grey on 15 January 1867.[32]

Admiral Albert Hastings Markham, designer of the flag of New Zealand

In 1869 the then First Lieutenant of the Royal Navy vessel Blanche, Albert Hastings Markham, submitted a design to Sir George Bowen, the Governor of New Zealand, for a national ensign for New Zealand. This followed a request by Bowen to Markham to come up with a new flag design, following a request to Bowen from the Colonial Office.[33] His proposal, incorporating the Southern Cross, was approved on 23 October 1869.[34] It was initially to be used only on government ships.[33]

To end confusion between various designs of the flag, New Zealand's Liberal Government passed the New Zealand Ensign Act 1901, which was approved by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902.[35][36]

Flown in battle[edit]

One of the first recorded accounts of the New Zealand Blue Ensign flag being flown in battle was at Quinn's Post, Gallipoli, in 1915. It was not, however, flown officially. The flag was brought back to New Zealand by Private John Taylor, Canterbury Battalion.[38] The first time the flag of New Zealand was flown in a naval battle and the first time officially in any battle, was from HMS Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.[39]


A Blue Ensign defaced with a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter and a representation of the Southern Cross in the fly half, made up of one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.
The New Zealand flag is often mistaken for the flag of Australia (pictured), since they are similar in design.

With the Union Jack in its upper left-hand quarter, the flag still proclaims New Zealand's origins as a British colony. Some New Zealanders believe there should be a new flag which better reflects the country's independence,[40] while others argue that the design represents New Zealand's strong past and present ties to the United Kingdom and its history as a part of the British Empire.[41] Debate about changing the flag has often arisen in connection with the issue of republicanism in New Zealand.[42][43] The Southern Cross constellation is depicted on the flags of other former British colonies, such as the flag of Australia—although in Australia's case there are six all-white stars, while New Zealand's four stars have red centres.[10] The Australian and New Zealand flags are often mistaken for each other,[44] and this confusion has been cited as a reason for adopting a different design.[45]

Debate on keeping or changing the New Zealand flag started before May 1973, when a remit to change the flag was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference.[41] In November 1979 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, but the proposal attracted little support.[46]

In March 1994 Prime Minister Jim Bolger made statements supporting a move towards a republic.[47] Christian Democrat MP Graeme Lee introduced a Flags, Anthems, Emblems, and Names Protection Amendment Bill.[48] 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.[citation needed]

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 silver fern on a black background, along the lines of the Canadian Maple Leaf flag—as a possible alternative flag.[49]

On 5 August 2010 Labour list MP Charles Chauvel introduced a member's bill for a consultative commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag.[50]

2015–16 referendums[edit]

On 11 March 2014, Prime Minister John Key announced in a speech his intention to hold a referendum, during the next parliamentary term, on adopting a new flag.[51][52] Following National's re-election the details of the two referendums were announced.[53] The first referendum was set for November 2015 allowing voters to decide on a preferred design from five choices. The second referendum would see the preferred design voted on against the current flag in March 2016.[54]

Under the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, in the event that the flag were to change, the current flag (described as the "1902 flag") of New Zealand may continue to be used, and is "recognised as a flag of historical significance."[55] Official documents depicting the current flag, such as drivers' licences, would continue to be valid and would be replaced through matter of course (e.g., driver licence renewals).[55]

On 11 December 2015, preliminary results were announced for the first referendum. The blue and black design, with a silver fern and red stars, was the winning flag.[56][57] This flag design did not win the second referendum; according to preliminary results announced on 24 March 2016, the existing 1902 flag was chosen to remain the New Zealand flag. 56.7% were in favour of retaining the flag, with a voter turnout of 67.3%. 43.3% were in favour of changing the flag to the Lockwood design.[58]

New Zealand Red Ensign[edit]

The Red Ensign is mainly used as a civil ensign.

A red version of the flag, officially called the Red Ensign and nicknamed the "red duster",[59] was adopted in 1903 to be flown on non-government ships.[60] It was flown on New Zealand merchant ships during both world wars.[61]

The Red Ensign has sometimes been flown incorrectly on land in the belief that it is the national flag.[59] The Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 does allow for the Red Ensign to be used on land on occasions of Māori significance,[2] continuing the long preference of Māori for the use of red in flags.[60]

Other New Zealand flags[edit]

National flag alongside the tino rangatiratanga flag on Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day, 2012

The flag commonly known as the tino rangatiratanga (Māori sovereignty) flag was designed in 1989. It has been acknowledged as a national flag for the Māori.[62]

There are two official flags which, when flown in the appropriate circumstance, take precedence over the national flag of New Zealand:

In addition, the New Zealand Police, New Zealand Fire Service, New Zealand Customs Service, and the services of the New Zealand Defence Force have their own flags. A few local authorities have commissioned their own flags, such as Otago.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The terms "Union Jack" and "Union Flag" are both historically correct for describing the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom. Whether the term "Union Jack" applies only when used as a jack flag on a ship is a modern matter of debate.[7] The chief vexillologist of the British Flag Institute, Graham Bartram, has stated that either name is perfectly valid whatever the purpose.[8]
  2. ^ "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."[22]


  1. ^ Wilson, John (16 September 2016). "Tuakiri o Aotearoa me te kāwanatanga - Te tuakiri o Aotearoa" (in Maori). Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 No 47 (as at 03 June 2017), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". legislation.govt.nz.
  3. ^ a b c d "Flags". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  4. ^ Jones, Anna (24 March 2016). "The tangled tale of New Zealand's flag debate". BBC News. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  5. ^ "New Zealand votes to keep current flag". BBC News. 24 March 2016. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b c "Description and dimensions". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  7. ^ Nicolls, Bruce. "The Union Jack or The Union Flag?". The Flag Institute. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  8. ^ UNION JACK - discussion on BBC Broadcasting House. YouTube. 19 October 2013. Event occurs at 00:23:50–00:27:42. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  9. ^ The European Magazine: And London Review. 39. Philological Society of London. 1801. p. 74.
  10. ^ a b Wilson, John (16 September 2016). "The New Zealand flag". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  11. ^ a b Wassilieff, Maggy (12 June 2006). "Southern Cross - A national icon". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  12. ^ "Māhutonga". Te Aka Online Māori Dictionary. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  13. ^ a b Buschbacher, Sigrid Brigitte (2005). "Protection of public symbols in New Zealand and the United States of America: Flag burning versus freedom of expression" (PDF). The New Zealand Postgraduate Law e-Journal. University of Auckland Law School (2): 3–4. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  14. ^ Pollock, Kerryn (20 April 2016). "Flag law and protocol". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  15. ^ a b c "Flying the New Zealand Flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  16. ^ "Displaying the New Zealand Flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  17. ^ "Half-masting the New Zealand Flag occasion". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  18. ^ "United Tribes flag". New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2015. Without a flag to represent the new nation, trading ships and their valuable cargoes were liable to be seized
  19. ^ "United Tribes flag". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 19 November 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  20. ^ Fitzgerald, Caroline (2011). Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5.
  21. ^ "Flags of New Zealand: United Tribes flag". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 20 March 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  22. ^ "Government Notice, Colonial Secretary's Office. Sept. 9, 1835, New Zealand". The Cornwall Chronicle. Launceston, Tasmania. 9 September 1835. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
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  25. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 43.
  26. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 48.
  27. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 51.
  28. ^ "Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865". New Zealand Legal Information Institute. 1865. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  29. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 52.
  30. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 50.
  31. ^ Volker Preuß. "Flagge Neuseeland" (in German). Retrieved 7 September 2003.
  32. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 54.
  33. ^ a b Mulholland 2016, p. 55.
  34. ^ "Rear-Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham, Norfolk Museums and Archeology Service". Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
  35. ^ "New Zealand Signalling Ensign" (in Italian). rbvex.it. Retrieved 20 August 2004.
  36. ^ Mulholland 2016, p. 66.
  37. ^ "New Zealand Signalling Flag". NZ History.net.nz. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  38. ^ "New Zealand flag from Quinn's Post | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". www.nzhistory.net.nz. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  39. ^ "The "Diggers' " flag, the New Zealand Ensign, flying at the masthead of Achills during the naval battle". Auckland Star. 23 February 1940. p. 9. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  40. ^ King, David, Regulatory Impact Statement: Considering Changing the New Zealand Flag, New Zealand Ministry of Justice
  41. ^ a b Moody, John. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand's Flag" (pdf). New Zealand Flag Association. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  42. ^ Hubbard, Anthony (14 January 2018). "Monarchy or republic? The debate for NZ's head of state rages on". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  43. ^ Jones, Nicolas (28 March 2016). "Bill English: Flag vote shows republic a ways off". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  44. ^ Fletcher, David. "Flag confusion". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  45. ^ Brian Sweeney (February 2004). "Eight Reasons To Change The New Zealand Flag". NZ Flag.com Trust. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  46. ^ "New Zealand – Proposals for a new flag". Flags of the World. 29 September 2006. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  47. ^ "History of Republicanism in New Zealand – 1994". New Zealand Republic. November 2007. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  48. ^ "Maori Law Review – New Zealand". Maori Law Review. September 1994. Archived from the original on 20 September 2008.
  49. ^ "Calls for a new flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  50. ^ "Bill advocates consultative debate on new flag". Scoop.co.nz. 5 August 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  51. ^ "New Zealand to hold referendum on new, 'post-colonial' flag". The Guardian. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  52. ^ "New Zealand to hold referendum on national flag". BBC News. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  53. ^ "First steps taken towards flag referendum". beehive.govt.nz. New Zealand Government. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  54. ^ "The NZ flag – your chance to decide". Government of New Zealand. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  55. ^ a b "New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – amendments". Parliamentary Counsel Office. 2015. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  56. ^ "New Zealand chooses new flag as preliminary winner". BBC. 11 December 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  57. ^ Griffiths, James (15 December 2015). "Would you replace the New Zealand flag with this?". CNN. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  58. ^ "Flag referendum: New Zealand votes to keep current flag". The New Zealand Herald. 24 March 2016. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  59. ^ a b Thomas, Rachel (2 January 2017). "Flags of New Zealand: the official ones, and the distant relatives". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  60. ^ a b c d Pollock, Kerryn (30 April 2006). "Flags - Other flags". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  61. ^ "New Zealand Red Ensign". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  62. ^ Pollock, Kerryn (30 April 2006). "Flags - Māori flags". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  63. ^ "The Governor-General's Flag". Governor-General of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 June 2018.


External links[edit]