New Zealand’s current flag was officially adopted in 1902 during the South African War and represents the realm, people and government. The background of the flag is a royal blue color, which represents the Blue Squadron of the Royal Navy. The Union Jack in the first quarter represents New Zealand’s history as a British colony. Four red stars, outlined in white, are on the opposite side of the flag and are situated to represent the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross on the flag represents the country’s location in the Southern Pacific Ocean.
New Zealand’s first flag was flown from 1834 to 1840. Designed by a missionary of the Church Missionary Society and voted on by 25 Maori Chiefs of the Far North, the flag was known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand. The flag represented to the people that Great Britain recognized New Zealand as its own nation. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and the Union Jack was used as the nation’s flag until the current flag was adopted. The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand remains important to the Maori today.
In 1867 following the Colonial Navy Defence Act 1865, several flags were flown that were based upon British’s blue ensign. The Defence Act required that all ships that were owned by the colonial governments fly with defaced Blue ensign with a colonial badge. Since New Zealand did not have a colonial badge at the time the act was signed, the letters “NZ” in red with white outline were placed on the flag instead to represent the nation.
In 1973, a debate began on changing the country’s flag, though the proposal was initially voted down by the Labour Party. Since that time, several government officials have proposed a new flag, even going as far as designing a new flag. The proposed flag was black with a silver fern but ended up not getting enough support.
In 2014, Prime Minister John Key announced that a referendum that would be held to adopt a new flag. In November 2015, voters will be able to choose between the current flag and four other options, with the preferred design being officially flown in March 2016.
The current New Zealand flag is the first to incorporate the Southern Cross constellation. New Zealand’s flag is similar to Australia’s flag, which also has the Union Jack in the uppermost left corner.