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Flag of New Zealand
The flag of New Zealand is a defaced Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and four red stars with white borders to the right. The stars represent the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross. New Zealand's first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, was adopted before New Zealand became a British colony. Chosen by an assembly of Māori chiefs in 1834, the flag was of a St George's Cross with another cross in the canton containing four stars on a blue field. After the formation of the colony in 1841, British ensigns began to be used. The current flag was designed and adopted for restricted use in 1869 and became the national flag in 1902. It is the British Blue Ensign, incorporating a stylised representation of the Southern Cross showing the four brightest stars in the constellation. Each star varies slightly in size. The Union Flag in the canton recalls New Zealand's colonial ties to Britain.

The flag proportion is 1:2 and the colours are red (Pantone 186C), blue (Pantone 280C) and white. Proportion and colours are identical to the Union Flag.

History
Flag of the United Tribes
The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when the trading ship Sir George Murray, built in the Hokianga, was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand-built ships could not fly under a British flag due to New Zealand's colonial status. Among the passengers on the ship were two high-ranking Māori chiefs, believed to be Patuone and Taonui. The ship's detainment was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.

The first flag of New Zealand was adopted on 9 March 1834 by a vote made by the United Tribes of New Zealand, a meeting of Māori chiefs, who later made the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand at Waitangi in 1835. Three flags were proposed, all purportedly designed by the missionary Henry Williams, who was to play a major role in the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The chiefs rejected two other proposals which included the Union Flag, in favour of a modified St George's Cross or the White Ensign. This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand[citation needed]. The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was officially gazetted in New South Wales in August 1835, with a general description not mentioning fimbriation or the number of points on the stars. The need for a flag was pressing, not only because New Zealand-built ships were being impounded in Sydney for not flying a national flag, but also as a symbol of the independence declared by the Māori chiefs.

The flag is still flown on the flag pole at Waitangi, and can be seen on Waitangi Day. The flag is made with the colours of red, blue, white and black.

Union Flag
After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the British Union Flag was used, although the former United Tribes flag was still used by a number of ships from New Zealand and in many cases on land. The New Zealand Company settlement at Wellington, for example, continued to use the United Tribes flag until ordered to replace it by Governor William Hobson in 1841.

Flags based on defaced Blue ensign
The first flag of New Zealand to be based on the British blue ensign was introduced in 1867 following the Colonial Navy Defence Act 1865, which required all ships owned by colonial governments fly the defaced Royal Navy blue ensign with a Colonial badge. New Zealand did not have a Colonial badge, or indeed a Coat of Arms of its own at this stage, and so the letters "NZ" were simply added to the blue ensign.

The current flag was introduced in 1869. It was initially used only on government ships, but was adopted as the de facto national flag in a surge of patriotism arising from the Second Boer War in 1902. To end confusion between various designs of the flag, the Liberal Government passed the Ensign and Code Signals Bill, which was approved by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902, declaring the flag as New Zealand's national flag. The United Tribes flag design also features on the back of the Second Boer War medals presented to soldiers who served in the war, which indicates that the United Tribes flag was used widely in New Zealand until around this time.

Legislation
The national flag is officially defined in the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981. Section 5(2) declares it to be "the symbol of the Realm, Government, and people of New Zealand." This law, like most other laws, can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament.

Entrenchment proposal
In March 1994 the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger made statements supporting a move towards a New Zealand republic. In response Christian Democrat MP Graeme Lee introduced a Flags, Anthems, Emblems, and Names Protection Amendment Bill. If passed, the Bill would have entrenched the Act that governs the flag and added New Zealand's anthems, requiring a majority of 65 percent of votes in Parliament before any future legislation could change the flag. The Bill passed its first reading but was defeated at its second reading, 26 votes to 37.

New Zealand flag debate
Debate on keeping or changing the New Zealand Flag started before November 1979 when the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet suggested that the design of the flag should be changed, and sought an artist to design a new flag with a silver fern on the fly. The proposal attracted little support however. In 1998 Prime Minister Jenny Shipley backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for the flag to be changed. Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national silver fern flag, using a white silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag, along the lines of the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag.

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