SpecificationsThe flag should be rectangular in shape and its length should be two times its width, translating into an aspect ratio of 1:2. It has a royal blue background with a Union Jack in the Canton (flag), canton, and four five-pointed red stars centred within four five-pointed white stars on the Glossary of vexillology, fly (outer or right-hand side). The exact colours are specified as Pantone 186 C (red), Pantone 280 C (blue), and white. 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". 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:
Flag law and protocolThe Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 governs the usage of the national flag and all other official flags. This Act, like most other laws, can be amended or repealed by a Plurality (voting), simple majority in Parliament. 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 crime, 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. 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. 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. Unlike some other countries there is no single official "Flag Day" in New Zealand, and no pledge of allegiance to the flag. Flag flying may be encouraged on certain List of commemorative days, commemorative days, at the discretion of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. The flag is usually only used as a vehicle flag by certain high-ranking officeholders, including: the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Prime Minister and other ministers; ambassadors and high commissioners (when overseas); and the Chief of Defence Force (New Zealand), Chief of Defence Force. In such cases, no distinguishing defacement or fringing of the flag is used. The flag is Half-mast#New Zealand, 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 Edmund Hillary, Sir Edmund Hillary. 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.
Flag of the United TribesThe need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear in 1830 when the Merchant ship, 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 people, Māori chiefs, believed to be Eruera Maihi Patuone, Patuone and Aperahama Taonui, 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. 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, Northland, 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 (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. This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand 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. The United Tribes' flag is still flown on the flag pole at Waitangi, and can be seen on Waitangi Day.
Union JackAfter 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). The Union Jack was described as the "superior flag", to be flown above the New Zealand flag prior to 1965.
Flags based on defaced Blue EnsignDuring 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. This led to the British parliament passing the Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865, which allowed the colonial governments to own ships, including for military purposes, but they would have to be under the Royal Navy's command. 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. 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, following a decree by Governor George Grey on 15 January 1867. In 1869 the then First Lieutenant of the Royal Navy vessel HMS Blanche (1867), ''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. His proposal, incorporating the Southern Cross, was approved on 23 October 1869. It was initially to be used only on government ships. To end confusion between various designs of the flag, New Zealand's Liberal Government of New Zealand, Liberal Government passed the New Zealand Ensign Act 1901, which was approved by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902.
Flown in battleOne 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. The first time the flag of New Zealand was flown in a naval battle and the first time officially in any battle, was from HMNZS Achilles (70), HMS ''Achilles'' during the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.
DebateWith 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 of New Zealand, independence, 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. Debate about changing the flag has often arisen in connection with the issue of republicanism in New Zealand. 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. The Australian and New Zealand flags are often mistaken for each other, and this confusion has been cited as a reason for adopting a different design. 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 New Zealand Labour Party, Labour Party at their national conference. 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 Cyathea dealbata, silver fern on the fly, but the proposal attracted little support. In March 1994 Prime Minister Jim Bolger made statements supporting a move towards a republic. Christian Democrat Party (New Zealand), Christian Democrat MP Graeme Lee (politician), Graeme Lee introduced a Flags, Anthems, Emblems, and Names Protection Amendment Bill. If passed, the Bill would have Entrenchment clause, 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. 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 Flag of Canada, Canadian Maple Leaf flag—as a possible alternative flag. On 5 August 2010 Labour list MP Charles Chauvel (politician), Charles Chauvel introduced a member's bill for a consultative commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag.
2015–16 referendumsOn 11 March 2014, Prime Minister John Key announced in a speech his intention to hold a referendum, during the 51st New Zealand Parliament, next parliamentary term, on adopting a new flag. Following National's re-election the details of the two referendums were announced. 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. Had the flag changed, the current flag (described as the "1902 flag") of New Zealand would have been "recognised as a flag of historical significance", and its continued use would have been permitted. Official documents depicting the current flag would have been replaced only through ordinary means, e.g. an existing Driving licence in New Zealand, driving licence would have remained valid until its renewal date. On 11 December 2015, preliminary results were announced for the first referendum. The blue and black design, with a Cyathea dealbata, silver fern and red stars, was the winning flag. 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 Kyle Lockwood, Lockwood design.
New Zealand Red EnsignA red version of the flag, officially called the Red Ensign and nicknamed the "red duster", was adopted in 1903 to be flown on non-government ships. It was flown on New Zealand merchant ships during both world wars. The Red Ensign has sometimes been flown incorrectly on land in the belief that it is the national flag. The Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 does allow for the Red Ensign to be used on land on occasions of Māori people, Māori significance, continuing the long preference of Māori for the use of red in flags.
Other New Zealand flagsThe 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. There are two official flags which, when flown in the appropriate circumstance, take precedence over the national flag of New Zealand: *The Queen's Personal Flag for New Zealand, adopted in 1962, depicts the New Zealand coat of arms in banner form defaced with a roundel containing the letter 'E' and a Crown (heraldry), crown. The personal flag is flown continuously on any building in which Elizabeth II, the Queen is in residence and by a ship transporting the Queen in New Zealand waters. *The Flag of the Governor-General of New Zealand is flown continuously in the presence of the Governor-General of New Zealand, governor-general. The flag in its present form was adopted in 2008, and is a blue banner with a shield of the New Zealand coat of arms surmounted by a crown. 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 government in New Zealand, local authorities have commissioned their own flags, such as Flag of Otago, Otago.
See also*Flag desecration#New Zealand, Flag desecration § New Zealand *National symbols of New Zealand *Coat of arms of New Zealand *Historical flags of the British Empire and the overseas territories *Flags depicting the Southern Cross *List of countries and territories with the Union Jack displayed on their flag