Flags Act 1953 (Cth)

 

 

As part of the British Empire Australia originally flew the Union Jack. According to the College of Heralds it is a royal symbol representing the monarchy which is used as the defacto flag of the United Kingdom by permission of the reigning monarch. In the decades following federation the red ensign of merchant navy was the preeminent flag in use by private citizens on land. This was largely due to the Commonwealth government and flag suppliers restricting sales of the blue ensign to the general public. By traditional British understanding, the blue ensign was reserved for official government use although the red ensign was nevertheless still in military circulation until after the 1953 legislation, meaning the 1st and 2nd Australian Imperial Forces served under both the blue and red versions. State and local governments, private organisations and individuals were expected to use the red ensign.

The blue ensign replaced the Union Jack at the Olympic Games at St Louis in 1904. It was raised in victory for the first time at the 1908 London Olympics when the Australian rugby team won the gold medal. On 2 June 1904, due to lobbying by Richard Crouch MP, it had the same status as the Union Flag in the UK, when the House of Representatives proclaimed that the Blue Ensign "should be flown upon all forts, vessels, saluting places and public buildings of the Commonwealth upon all occasions when flags are used." In 1908, Australian Army Military Order, No 58/08 ordered the blue "Australian Ensign" to replace the Union Jack at all military establishments. From 1911 it served as the saluting flag of the Australian army at all reviews and ceremonial parades (M.O.135) with the Union Jack being reserved for "all occasions when a representative of His Majesty the King reviews the Commonwealth forces" (M.O.391).

In the 1920s there was debate over whether the blue ensign was reserved for Commonwealth buildings only, culminating in a 1924 agreement that the Union Jack should take precedence as the national flag and that state and local governments were henceforth able to use the blue ensign. In 1940 the Victorian government passed legislation allowing schools to purchase blue ensigns. The following year prime minister Robert Menzies issued a media release recommending that the blue ensign be flown at schools, government buildings and by private citizens and continued use of the red ensign by merchant ships, providing it was done so respectfully. Prime Minister Ben Chifley issued a similar statement in 1947.

On 4 December 1950, the Australian cabinet proclaimed the blue ensign as the national flag and in 1951 King George VI approved the government's recommendation. When the Flags bill was introduced into parliament on 20 November 1953, prime minister Robert Menzies said:

"This bill is very largely a formal measure which puts into legislative form what has become almost the established practice in Australia ... The design adopted was submitted to His Majesty King Edward VII, and he was pleased to approve of it as the Australian flag in 1902. However, no legislative action has ever been taken to determine the precise form of the flag or the circumstances of its use, and this bill has been brought down to produce that result."

The Flags Act has the distinction of being the first to be given royal assent by a reigning monarch when it was signed into law on 14 February 1954 by Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Canberra to open the 3rd session of the 20th federal parliament. The description of the flag in Schedule I of the Flags Act 1953 (No 1, 1954) contained an error, describing the outer diameter of the Commonwealth Star as three-eighths of the width of the flag. This was inconsistent with the pictures of the flags in Schedule II, which had the correct diameter of three tenths of the width of the flag. The mistake was corrected when the Act was amended by the Flags Act 1954 (No 58, 1954), which received Royal Assent on 6 November 1954, but stated its commencement date as 14 April 1954, the date that the original act came into operation.

The Act confers statutory powers on the governor-general to appoint 'flags and ensigns of Australia' and authorise warrants and make rules as to use of flags. Section 8 ensures that the 'right or privilege' of a person to fly the Union Jack is not affected by the Act. South Australia chose to continue with the Union Jack until 1956, when schools were given the option of using the Australian national flag.

The Union Jack was still regarded as the national flag by many Australians well into the 1970s, which inspired Arthur Smout's campaign from 1968 to 1982 to encourage Australians to give the Australian national flag precedence.

By the mid-1980s the Australian government no longer reminded citizens they had the right to fly the Union Jack alongside the Australian national flag or provided illustrations of how to correctly display them together.

The Flags Amendment Act 1998 provides for a process model for reviewing the design of the Australian national flag. Under subsections 3(2) & 3(3) of the Flags Act any alteration is required to be approved by a plebiscite where electors are offered a choice between the existing flag or one or more alternatives. Neither the requirement for or outcome of such a plebiscite is binding on the parliament, which would still need to amend the Flags Act by the required majorities and with royal assent to alter the dejure pattern.

 

Royal Assent

 

 

 

 

Statute

 

Flag Act 1953

 

Act No. 1 as Amended
 

Contents

 

1. Short title [see Note 1]

2. Extension to Territories

3. The Australian National Flag

4. The Australian Red Ensign

5. Other flags

6. Warrants to use flags

7. Rules as to the use of flags

8. Flying of the Union Jack

 

Schedule 1 - The Australian National Flag and the Australian Red Ensign

 

Schedule 2 - Flags

 

Notes

 

An Act to declare a certain Flag to be the Australian National Flag and to make other provision with respect to Flags

 

 

1 Short Title [see Note 1]

This Act may be cited as the Flags Act 1953.

2 Extension to Territories

This Act extends to all the Territories.

3 The Australian National Flag

(1) The blue flag described in Schedule 1, being the flag a reproduction of which is set out in Part I of Schedule 2, is declared to be the Australian National Flag.
 

(2) The blue flag referred to in subsection (1) ceases to be the Australian National Flag if, and only if:

(a) a new flag or flags, and the flag referred to in subsection (1), are submitted in each State and Territory to the electors qualified to vote for the election of members of the House of Representatives; and


(b) the new flag, or one of the new flags, is chosen by a majority of all the electors voting.

(3) The form and manner in which a proposal for a new Australian National Flag is submitted to electors, and the manner in which a vote on the proposal is taken (which may include the adoption of a form of preferential voting for choosing among 3 or more flags), and arrangements for adopting a new flag as the Australian National Flag if chosen as mentioned in subsection (2), are to be as the Parliament prescribes.


(4) In this section:

 

Territory means any Territory referred to in section 122 of the constitution in respect of which there is in force a law allowing its representation in the House of Representatives.

4 The Australian Red Ensign

The red flag described in Schedule 1, being the flag a reproduction of which is set out in Part II of Schedule 2, shall be known as the Australian Red Ensign.

5 Other Flags

The Governor-General may, by Proclamation, appoint such other flags and ensigns of Australia as he thinks fit.

6 Warrants to Use Flags

The Governor-General may, by warrant, authorize a person, body or authority to use a flag or ensign referred to in, or appointed under, this Act, either without defacement or defaced in the manner specified in the warrant.

7 Rules As To Use of Flags

The Governor-General may make, and cause to be published, rules for the guidance of persons in connexion with the flying or use of flags or ensigns referred to in, or appointed under, this Act.

8 Flying of Union Jack

This Act does not affect the right or privilege of a person to fly the Union Jack.
 

Schedule 1 – The Australian National Flag and the Australian Red Ensign
 

Sections 3 and 4

1. The Australian National Flag is a blue flag, and the Australian Red Ensign is a red flag, the design of each of which is specified in clause 1A.
 

1A. Each of the flags referred to in clause 1 has:

(a) the Union Jack occupying the upper quarter next the staff;
 

(b) a large white star (representing the 6 States of Australia and the Territories) in the centre of the lower quarter next the staff and pointing direct to the centre of St. George’s Cross in the Union Jack, as specified in Table A; and
 

(c) 5 white stars (representing the Southern Cross) in the half of the flag further from the staff, as specified in Table B.
 

Table A - Commonwealth Star

 

Position of Centre Outer diameter Inner diameter Number of Points
On middle line (parallel with the hoist edge of flag) of Union Jack (produced), one-quarter width of flag from bottom edge of flag Three-tenths of width of flag Four-ninths of outer diameter Seven

 

 

Name Position of Centre Outer Diameter Inner Diameter Number of Points
Alpha Crucis On the middle line, one-sixth from bottom edge One-seventh Four-ninths Seven
Beta Crucis One-quarter from middle line, at right angles on left to a point on middle line one-sixteenth above centre of fly One-seventh Four-ninths Seven
Gamma Crucis On middle line one-sixth from top edge One-seventh Four-ninths Seven
Delta Crucis Two-ninths from middle line at right angles on right to a point one-fifteenth above a point on middle line one-sixteenth above centres of fly One-seventh Four-ninths Seven
Epsilon Crucis One-tenth from middle line at right angles on right to a point on middle line one twenty-fourth below centre of fly One-twelfth Four-ninths Seven

 

2. In Table A and Table B, “width of flag” means the measurement of the hoist edge of the flag.
 

3. In Table B, “middle line” means a straight line, parallel with the hoist edge of the flag, and dividing the fly into two equal parts.
 

Schedule 2 - Flags
 


 

 

 

Notes to the Flags Act 1953

 

Note 1


The Flags Act 1953 as shown in this compilation comprises Act No. 1, 1954 amended as indicated in the Tables below.

 

Table of Acts

 

Act Number and Year Date of Assent Date of Commencement Application, Saving or Transitional Provisions
Flags Act 1953 1, 1954 14 Feb 1954 14 Apr 1954 (a)  
Flags Act 1954 58, 1954 6 Nov 1954 14 Apr 1954

Statue Law Revision Act 1973 216, 1973 19 Dec 1973 31 Dec 1973 Ss. 9(1) and 10
Flags Amendment Act 1981 9, 1981 25 Mar 1981 26 Jan 1982 (see s. 2 and Gazette 1981, No. G51, p.2)
Flags Amendment Act 1998 2, 1998 24 Mar 1998 24 Mar 1998
Statute Law Revision Act Act 2008 73, 2008 3 July 2008 Schedule 4 (item 294): 4 July 2008

 


Act  Notes

 

(a) This Act was reserved for Her Majesty’s pleasure on 12 December 1953, the Queen’s Assent was given on 14 February 1954 and was made known to each House of the Parliament on 15 February 1954 and was made known to each House of Parliament on 15 February 1954. By a Proclamation dated 8 April 1954, the Queen’s Assent was proclaimed in the Gazette on 14 April 1954 (see Gazette 1954, p. 1179).

 

Table of Amendments
 

ad.= added or inserted am. = amended rep. = repealed rs. = repealed and substituted

 

Provision Affected How Affected
S. 2 am No. 216, 1973
S. 3 rs. No. 9, 1981
S. 4 am. No. 216, 1973
S. 5 am. No. 73, 2008
S. 7 am No. 216, 1973
Heading to Schedules rep. No. 9, 1981
Heading to First Schedules rep. No. 9, 1981
First Schedule am, No. 58, 1954; No. 216, 1973
Heading to Schedule 1 ad. No. 9, 1981
Schedule 1 am. No. 9, 1981
Heading to Second Schedule rep. No. 9, 1981
Heading to Schedule 2 ad. No. 9, 1981