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History of the Australian national flag (Part 4)

Last modified: 2019-06-14 by ian macdonald
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The Flags Act

Initially, the Red Ensign was the only flag private citizens could fly on land. In 1941 Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, announced that there should be no restriction on flying the Australian Blue Ensign, and in 1947 the Prime Minister, who was then Joseph Chifley, issued a press statement that actively encouraged its use by private citizens. [The Australian Flag [fol96] by Carol Foley]
David Prothero, 12 September 2001

After the 1953 Flags Act, the 'blue ensign' became the national flag for private citizens.
Miles Li, 15 September 2001

The 'Flags Act 1953' (Act No. 1 of 1954) was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in November 1953 proclaiming definitively the Australian Blue Ensign as the national flag and the Australian Red Ensign as the proper colours for merchant ships registered in Australia.
David Cohen, 26 March 1999

Barraclough, in: Flags of the World, 1971 [bar71] writes: (p.235) 'It was not until the passing of the Flags Act, 1953, that legislative effect was given to the use of the Blue Ensign. When the Bill was being drafted, the question of the shade of the blue color was raised. After due consideration, it was decided to adopt the shade of royal blue. Australians are indeed very proud of the fact that H.M. Queen Elizabeth II gave her personal assent to the Act on February 15th 1954, during her visit to Canberra, the Federal capital. This was an historic occasion of some importance in that it was the first Australian legislation to which a reigning sovereign had ever assented in Australia.'
Jarig Bakker, 29 Jul 1999

There is a scan of the Act including diagrams, the signatures of the Governor-General and The Queen of Australia here: http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/places/cth/cth7/cth7_72_p6_1953.jpg
Colin Dobson, 28 Feb 2005

2nd December 1953 appears to be the day on which the passage of the Bill through both houses of parliament was completed, but this is not enough to make the bill an act. This would normally happen when the Governor-General gave the Royal Assent. In this case, however, the Governor-General reserved the Act for Her Majesty's pleasure on 12th December, and it was not enacted until given Royal Assent on 14th February 1954 and did not come into operation until the Royal Assent was proclaimed in the Commonwealth Gazette on 14th April 1954.

This is the proclamation on page 1179 Gazette No 24, 1954:

PROCLAMATION

Commonwealth of Australia to wit. W.J.SLIM      By His Excellency the Governor-General in and over the Commonwealth of Australia

Whereas by sub-section (2.) of section five of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901-1950 it is provided that every Act reserved for the signification of the Queen's Pleasure thereon shall come into operation on the day on which Her Majesty's Assent is proclaimed in the Gazette by the Governor-General, unless the contrary intention appears in such Act:

And whereas the Flags Act 1953 was so reserved:

Now therefore, I, Sir William Joseph Slim, the Governor-General aforesaid, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, do hereby proclaim that Her Majesty was, on the fourteenth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-four, pleased to assent to the Flags Act 1953.

Given under my Hand and the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Australia this eigth day of April, in the
(L.S.) year of our Lord One thousand nine hundred and fifty-four, and in the third year of Her Majesty's reign.

By His Excellency's Command,

ROBERT G. MENZIES
Prime Minister.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

Jonathan Dixon, 10 August 2005

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 inconsistant 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.
Jonathan Dixon, 19 August 2005

The current version of the Flags Act is available at ComLaw.
Jonathan Dixon, 30 September 2008


A document "Flags for Australian Ships and other purposes - Flags Act 1953-1954" can be seen at https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=7853923 (jump to page 44) that lists the defacements on flags and ensigns as used by various departments following the Flags Act.

From the late 1940s until after the Flags Act 1953 took effect, officers of the Commonwealth government tried repeatedly to find out what the flag-flying practices were in the various Commonwealth departments and agencies, including the Armed Forces and the territories. They were particularly interested in finding defaced versions of the Australian Blue and Red Ensigns, and the second file below shows these badged types extracted from the full list. This full list is of course the first file below.

On this file (the full flag listing) please note my following comments on the right-hand 'authority' column;-
The scribble for flag 1 (customs flag) is 'Act, S 14'. That was the flag enablement at Section 14 of the Customs Act 1901 which is still in force today. Reg 2 was the actual flag prescription at the time.
For Flags 16 to 21, the AMR's were the civil law Australian Military Regulations 1927. The AMR&O's were instead the Australian Military Regulations and Orders, basically military law and subject to amendment by the Army instead of the Attorney-General's Department.
For Flags 20 and 21, they are incorrectly described as defacements of the Australian flag instead of the British Blue Ensign and this was later corrected.
Jeff Thomson, 8 June 2019