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1901 a new flag?

Should Australia have a new flag?

Australia is one of the few countries in the world where a change of the design of the national flag is advocated. National flags do change over time, usually reflecting a major change in the country's constitutional arrangements or government. Advocates of change in Australia believe that another flag design would be more effective in representing Australia than the current flag. Such proposals for change are rejected for two broad reasons - the status quo should endure because the case for change is not accepted and the national flag is symbolic of the nation and it should be honoured without alteration. Many supporters of the national flag do not make any distinction between the flag and the nation - they display the flag to demonstrate their patriotic support for Australia. Advocates of change claim to be equally patriotic, they only want to have a different flag to use.

The issue of a potential change is one that Flags Australia takes a strong interest in but, reflecting the mix of personal views of its members and a desire to be non-political, Flags Australia does not, as an entity, have an opinion - it neither supports a change of flag nor does it oppose such a change. It is however considered appropriate that Flags Australia provides expertise and a forum for debate and it fully reports both proposals for change and the views of advocates for the current flag. Flags Australia strives for balance in its coverage of the issue but does not resile from the view that the debate should be conducted with maximum respect and the arguments on both sides should be soundly based on correct facts about the history of flags in Australia and good design principles as they apply to flags. Emotions and politics legitimately play a role in connection with flags and ultimately the Australian political processes will determine the course of the flag debate.

The main arguments advanced in respect of a new flag, for and against, are summarised below. The text seeks to clearly express in summary form the opinions of each side of the flag debate, though neither text represents the views of Flags Australia. The texts have not been reviewed or authorised by either ANFA or Ausflag.

Retain the current Australian Flag

Australian flag

  • The Australian National Flag has served Australia well for over 100 years as the chief national symbol by law, custom and tradition - there are no compelling reasons why it should change.
  • The current flag is already well known internationally and it its distinctive and attractive design is effective in promoting Australian identity overseas.
  • The current flag was chosen in a unique and democratic public competition in 1901, judged to be the best design from 32,823 entries, with five different persons independently submitting the same design. The story of the 14 year-old Ivor Evans is considered inspirational, especially in the claim that he saw the Southern Cross as symbolic of Dante's four virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.

Review of Reviews cover

  • Australia's soldiers, sailors and airmen valiantly fought under the current flag during two World Wars for our freedom and the spirit of the ANZACs - therefore the flag should not change.
  • The flag of "Stars and Crosses" is considered to be a thing of beauty, colour, design, function and meaning - it represents Australia's history and values:
    • The Union Jack - The three crosses; St George, St Andrew and St Patrick represent our history and the British contributions of our language, literature, fine arts and sports, constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and freedom of speech.
    • The Commonwealth Star - represents our national unity - six points for the states and one point for the territories.
    • The Southern Cross - The constellation indicates the geography of our place in the southern hemisphere. The stars of the Southern Cross shone above the Australian continent when the first Aboriginal people arrived and they relate to various Aboriginal legends.
    • Together, the elements combine to interweave geography and history into a unique design that symbolises our future aspirations for Australia.
  • The popular support for the Australian flag is demonstrated by its widespread use - flying from private buildings, as a hand-waver on Anzac Day and at other public events and as a car sticker or lapel pin. The large number of members of the Australian National Flag Association (ANFA) is specific proof of the strength of public support for "our flag". ANFA members and the public show their support for the flag by attending annual Australian National Flag Day ceremonies each 3rd September.
  • The flag is a continuing focus of our national pride, whilst other flags such as Eureka are of only historical interest. The Australian flag has flown during most of the significant events in Australia's history, particularly at the Olympic Games of Melbourne and Sydney and in celebration of many other great sporting achievements. Many major events - either the celebration of an achievement or a public tragedy involve the national flag in some way and every such usage reinforces the need for the flag to be honoured unchanged.
  • The flag is for all Australians representing people from all backgrounds who support Australia's future, including migrants and Aboriginal people. It is the right and privilege of all Australians to fly the national flag and display it with pride and dignity in accord with the rules of flag etiquette and protocol.
  • The flag should not be changed without a referendum that would enable all Australians to vote on whether they would approve any change. This was the intended effect of the amendments to the Flags Act made in 1998, though some argue that the current flag should be included in the Constitution to ensure the effectiveness on such a prohibition on change without a majority vote.
  • Supporters of the current flag fear a change occurring, as they expect that any new design would be imposed by a government responding to a vocal minority and lobby groups and that such a design would not be capable of achieving popular acceptance, let alone one that could be as inspiring as the current flag.
  • Newspaper phone-in polls (Sydney Morning Herald 1998 and 1999) have been conducted which show the current flag being the most favoured when compared to various Ausflag designs.
  • Ausflag and others promoting a flag change are elitists who are closely linked to the republican movement. If the republic had been successful in 1999, then a change of flag was considered to be inevitable. The referendum on the republic was rejected by ordinary Australians who were not fooled by the pro-republic propaganda from the media and politicians and the vote should be regarded as supporting the view that the Australian flag also should not change.
  • In 2002 ANFA introduced the Australian National Flag Promise to encourage youth to associate the Australian National Flag with the appreciation and acceptance of the principles of Australian citizenship:
  I promise allegiance to Australia and our national flag of "Stars and Crosses";
  to serve my country and all its people faithfully and
  to uphold Australia's laws, values and traditions
  to the best of my ability.

Further information can be obtained from the website of the Australian National Flag Association.




Australia Needs a New National Flag



There have been a number of proposals to change the design of the national flag. In addition to the high profile Ausflag Limited there are also a number of individuals who have designed and promoted their own personal vision for a new flag. Set out below is an amalgam of the various arguments put forward as to why Australia should have a new flag.

  • It is accepted that the Australian National Flag has served Australia for over 100 years and through usage has become well known internationally.  However, it is time for it to be gracefully retired and a more effective design adopted.  There is no disrespect to the current flag in advocating a change; the current flag would continue to be honoured for its role in Australia's development as a nation.
  • Ausflag and the designers of a new flag are as patriotic and proud of Australia and its achievements as the advocates of retention of the current flag claim. They believe that a new flag would be flown and used to demonstrate the same emotions and national pride as occurs currently. A flag is a symbolic representation of the nation and its people - these would not be changed by a new flag. What is sought is a new design that can help reinforce national pride with a strong and inspiring design that is clearly and distinctively recognisable as Australian.
  • Ausflag's stated objective is "to secure the popular support of the Australian people for the adoption of a truly Australian flag, a flag which clearly and unequivocally proclaims our identity to other nations, a flag which is internationally recognisable and not confusing to other nations, and a flag which unites the Australian nation in all its diversity."
  • A new flag design can better reflect the values and aspirations of 21st Century Australia than the current flag which reflects through its design and its history a long past Australian society, when it was an integral part of the former British Empire. The debate is not about being anti-British. It is, simply, pro-Australian.
  • The current Australian flag is a British Blue Ensign with the addition of two emblems. The pattern of adding a badge to the fly of a British Blue Ensign was established in 1865 for use in all colonies within the British Empire. Each colonial governor selected a design for a badge to add to the colonial flag. Colonies were prohibited by the British Admiralty from having a distinctive flag in any other format. When Australia adopted its flag in 1903 the only variation to this colonial flag pattern was the addition of a second badge, the Federal Star. When the flag design competition was held in 1901, the judges knew that the only flag that would be acceptable to the British authorities was one that was a British Blue Ensign with a locally designed badge. Whilst the judges' decision stretched the colonial flag rules by using two badges, there was no option but to use a Union Jack in the top left corner of a blue flag (and a red version for use by shipping).
  • Due to the gradual process by which independence was achieved, Australia never had the opportunity to raise a new flag at an Independence Day ceremony, symbolically representing the "coming of age" of the nation. Therefore, like Canada which changed its flag in 1965 (whilst retaining HM Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada), Australia needs to reflect its current status as a fully independent country, respectful of its British history, but projecting through its flag an authentic and modern Australian identity.
  • Whilst most independent members of the Commonwealth have distinctive flags, Australia is one of only four independent nations that retain the Union Jack in their flag.  New Zealand also uses the Southern Cross (with red stars), whilst Fiji and Tuvalu changed the colour of their flags to light blue upon independence.  A British ensign is also used by Cook Islands, Niue, Manitoba, Ontario, Hawaii and 15 British dependent territories.  Internationally, Australia's continued use of a flag that includes the Union Jack is ambiguous - is Australia still a British colony?
  • A national flag is a powerful symbol of the nation and it is important that the flag be truly representative of all Australians. Whilst ANFA claims that the "Stars and Crosses" represent Australia's values and legal traditions, many see only the British Union Jack and associate that part of the flag as representing only the Anglo-Celtic origins of what is now only one part of our multi-cultural society. Australian values go beyond the limited list of the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and the like, that is attributed to British heritage.
  • Some advocates of change believe that the Australian national flag should include some acknowledgement of Australia's indigenous people, either to acknowledge their prior ownership of the land or to promote reconciliation.
  • The widespread use of the Boxing Kangaroo flag and other sports flags demonstrates the inability of the current national flag to fully reflect the national pride and identification needs of ordinary Australians.
  • The design of the current Australian National Flag is criticised for lacking any distinctive Australian design elements - the Union Jack in the top left corner ("the canton") indicates, in heraldry, that the United Kingdom flag is superior to the other design elements; the Southern Cross is not unique to Australia - it appears on a number of other national flags of countries in the southern hemisphere; and the Commonwealth Star is meaningless to foreigners, unless they are explicitly educated about the meaning of the elements of the Australian flag.  Many other countries include a large star on their flag.
  • The debate about a change of flag is separate and distinct from proposals to change Australia from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.  It is acknowledged that many of the arguments are similar and, if Australia were to become a republic, that change could be symbolised by a change of flag, but it would be equally valid to affirm the limited impact of a constitutional change by leaving the Australian flag unchanged.  Australia, like Canada and 11 other Commonwealth countries could change the flag whilst retaining the Queen as Head of State.
  • The argument that the current flag cannot be changed because Australia's defence forces fought under the current flag during two World Wars is considered to be a furphy. Australia's soldiers, sailors and airmen fought to defend their nation and to serve their country in the various wars in which Australia has participated - they did not "fight for the flag" but did fight for what the flag represents. A change of flag does not diminish their service. Canadian forces were a major part of the D-Day landings in 1944 and today the current Canadian flag is used to represent their participation, not the Canadian red ensign used during World War II. No accusations of disrespect to ex-servicemen were made when the flags used by the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force during World War II were changed.
  • Advocates of change accept that the national flag should not be changed without clear evidence of widespread public support for a change.  If necessary, this public support can be tested by a referendum or plebiscite, though the way in which such a public vote is conducted should be such that the public's opinions are genuinely identified, not using a referendum as a device for entrenching the current flag, which was the intended effect of the amendments to the Flags Act made in 1998.
  • Advocates of change believe that there is a majority public opinion in favour of a change of flag, though there currently is no single new design that is clearly favoured.  Change-advocates cannot be dismissed as a vocal minority or mere lobby groups. It is accepted that widespread popular acceptance for a new flag is a necessary prerequisite for change.  Ausflag and many independent designers have strived to create and popularise an alternative flag design that has a superior design to the current flag and is capable of being inspirational.
  • Debate about the flag and its future is an example of the healthy debate in a democracy that ensures the continued relevance of the national symbols.

Further information can be obtained from the website of Ausflag Limited

Ausflag has regularly promoted alternative flag designs including the holding of public design competitions. A number of the flags that Ausflag has promoted are:

Ausflag 1986   Wayne Stokes 1986 - Winner of the Ausflag 88 flag competition in the Bulletin magazine.
Ausflag 1987   Lunn-Dyer and Associates 1987 - Ausflag 88 promoted two new flag designs.
Ausflag 1991   Ausflag 1991 - Second promotion reverted to the Southern Cross in a choice of blue or green
Ausflag 1993   Mark Tucker 1993 - Winner of second Ausflag national flag competition
Scruby kangaroo   Harold Scruby 1994 - Third promotion tested kangaroo in Aboriginal colours. Voted 3rd place in internet poll associated with Ausflag's 1997-2000 design competition.
Ken Done   Ken Done 1995 - A commercial designer and Ausflag promoted Southern Cross in gold with a choice of blue or green flag.
Scruby Burton  

Harold Scruby 1997 - Fifth promotion, acknowledged to be an adaptation of Tony Burton's 1993 design (see below)

Ausflag 2000 Judges   Franck Gentil 2000 - Overall winner of Ausflag Professional Design Competition, which commenced in 1997.
Ausflag 2000 Peoples   George Margaritis 2000 - Second prize in Ausflag Professional Design Competition and voted as the People's Choice in internet poll.

A number of other Australians have proposed new designs for an Australian national flag.  A selection of these designs, most of which have been featured in Crux Australis, is listed below.  More information on many of the more recent flag proposals can also be found on the web sites of their designers.

Republican   Republican Socialist League 1956 - the first proposal for a new flag - remove the Union Jack and replace wit the Commonwealth Star
Australasian Post   Australasian Post 1968 - remove the Union Jack and rearrange the remaining elements. Used by Australian cricket team in Test Match tour of England in 1997.
  Richard Bates 1971 - winner of Australian National Flag Quest run by the Bulletin magazine.
Athol Kelly   Athol Kelly 1979 - All Australian Flag
Ralph Kelly   Ralph Kelly 1982 - a weekly finalist in the Daily Telegraph flag design competition.
Williamson 1   John Williamson 1983 - Fair Dinkum Flag
Aussie Push   Alan Wright 1983 - Aussie Push for 88
Hundertwasser   Friedensreich Hundertwasser 1986 - Down Under flag - Uluru positioned to show "Australia holding the earth from down under".
Burton 1   Tony Burton 1984 - Southern Cross Flag
Coulin   Geoff Coulin 1989 - Wattle Flag
Bartlett   Charles and Ralph Bartlett 1992 - Southern Cross with national colours.
Advertiser   John Bartholomew 1992 - winning design in Adelaide Advertiser flag competition.
Couzens   David Couzens 1993 - equal first winning design in Channel 9 A Current Affair flag competition.
Burton 2   Tony Burton 1993 - equal first winning design in Channel 9 A Current Affair flag competition and also third place in Ausflag 1993 flag design competition.
Poulos   George Poulos 1993 - the rising sun of the ANZACs is the primary icon of Australia
brendan Jones   Brendan Jones 1995 - Reconciliation Flag
Williamson 2   John Williamson 1995 - True Blue flag
James Parbery   James Parbery 1996 - Originally called A flag for us all, relaunched 2008 as the All Australian Flag.
Yahoo Serious Flag   Yahoo Serious 1997 - All Australian Flag
Kennedy Reconciliation   Russell Kennedy 1997 - Reconciliation Flag
Sunburnt   Stephen Berry 1998 - The Sunburnt Flag
Markwick   Peter Markwick 1999 - combining the Southern Cross and kangaroo in green and gold.
Rieben   Fred Rieben 2004 - FlagOz actively promotes its Southern Cross and Boomerang flag.
Wendy Davies   Wendy Davies 2009 - A leaping kangaroo symbolises the legends and totemic beliefs of Aboriginal Australians and the spirit of the nation.
Michael Iacuone   Michael Iacuone 2012 - Australia Blue flag - the stripes express the geographic width of the continent, red for the land and blue for the rivers.
Ralph Kelly flag   Ralph Kelly 2012 - An update of a 1982 design - removing Commonwealth Star as irrelevant and creating a "green and gold" element.
Bob Bradley   Dr Bob Bradley 2013 - Sun Arising flag - green with gold stripes and the classic kangaroo and a Commonwealth Star on a disc evocative of the rising sun.




    © 2014 Material Copyright to the Flag Society of Australia Inc and Pennant Advisory Services Pty Limited. Text and illustrations by Ralph Kelly. Web Design by Elizabeth Kelly of ELK Prints.