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History of the Australian national flag (Part 4)

Last modified: 2005-09-02 by jonathan dixon
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The Flags Act

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] After the 1953 Flags Act, the situation was reversed, the 'blue ensign' became the only flag private citizens could fly on land, while the use of the Red Ensign on land were prohibited. This is still true today.
David Prothero and Miles Li, 12-15 Sep 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:
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:


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,

Prime Minister.

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