There is a bit of vitriol between New Zealand and Australia over their flags. The thing is, both flags are very nearly identical, with only a few, slight variations that you definitely have to look twice to see.
Both flags feature the British flag in the upper, left-hand corner and both feature a number of stars. However, New Zealand’s stars are red, are four in number, and are situated in a cross form on the right side of the flag, while Australia has 6 white stars in a different arrangement.
Australia’s flag contains one, large white star below the British flag. It also features four stars in a cross form but there is another, smaller white star below and slightly to the left of the right-most star. The large star is a symbol of the “commonwealth.”
What are the Defining Characteristics and Differences Between the Two Flags?
The British flag at the top, left-hand corner of both flags is known as the Union Jack. Since both flags feature a blue background, they are difficult to differentiate from a distance. On closer inspection, however, there are some curious differences that warrant an explanation.
The Australian flag features what is known as a “Commonwealth” star. It’s easily the largest star on the flag and rests below the Union Jack. The New Zealand flag lacks this Commonwealth star altogether.
Another interesting difference has no defining characteristic whatsoever. The stars on the Australian flag are white, whereas the New Zealand flag’s stars are red with a thin, white border.
Australia’s flag features a sixth star embedded between the east and south stars that form the right side of the Australian cross. This star is smaller than the other stars on the flag and smaller than the red stars on the New Zealand flag as well.
Last, but not least, the Australian stars are seven-pointed, while the New Zealand flag has five-pointed stars.
Of course, the first thing you notice with the Australian flag is the Union Jack. It’s simply a representation of Australia’s history in terms of the UK. The star formation is a representation of the southern cross, with the tiny star representing Australia’s position with the southern cross.
The positioning is not literal but more of an explanation of the southern cross constellation’s appearance in the southern hemisphere only, with Australia’s location being in the southern hemisphere.
Once upon a time, the stars in the Australian flag were only six-pointed. This was the form of the flag in 1901 when it was first introduced. The seventh point was added to reflect an Australian province that is no longer an Australian province—Papua.
The New Zealand flag is very similar in a lot of ways, including the Union Jack, the stars, and the overall color scheme of the flag. Interestingly enough, the New Zealand flag is older than the Australian flag, predating it by 32 years.
There is no meaningful reason for the red stars, but they also form the southern cross, just like Australia’s. New Zealand has held a number of votes, the most recent one in 2016, on changing the flag but none have been successful thus far.
Flag Antipathy Between Australia and New Zealand
As we mentioned above, New Zealand has tried to change its flag a number of times and placed the issue in the voters’ hands. Of course, those referendums failed or the flag would be a different one today.
However, not everyone in New Zealand feels as if New Zealand should be the one to change its flag, especially since New Zealand holds the upper hand historically speaking. Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand, Winston Peters, accused Australia of copying New Zealand’s flag.
His suggestion has some merit. New Zealand’s flag arrived on the scene first and Australia’s flag is so similar that it can only be assumed elements of New Zealand’s flag were copied when Australia instituted its own flag.
Not only did New Zealand fly the current flag decades before Australia, but New Zealand also officially recognized its flag decades before Australia. In fact, the very year that New Zealand officially recognized the current flag, 1901, Australia adopted the flag they fly today.
However, Australia didn’t officially recognize its flag until 1954, 53 years after New Zealand recognized theirs.
Why Did New Zealand Not Join Australia?
It’s not that they didn’t join Australia so much as they separated from Australia way back in 1841. New Zealand is a series of islands that once belonged (as a colony) to South Wales. Australia adopted New Zealand as a colony in 1788.
However, there was a lot of confusion over what was British territory and what was not, as the name, New Zealand, was not included in the territory that was described and laid out at the time. Due to the lack of clarity on the subject matter, New Zealand went its own way in 1841.
Not only that, there was a ton of disagreement over the Maori people and it resulted in a very short-term treaty that expired in 1841. Once the treaty expired, New Zealand was on its own. Though they didn’t officially adopt their flag until 1901 (1902 by some estimates), it was often flown on colonial ships well before then.
However, the existing Australian Constitution contains a clause that would allow New Zealand to become a part of Australia at any time, whether it’s now or far into the future. The fact is, New Zealand could become Australia if the government chose to do so.
The fact that New Zealand has never taken Australia up on its offer and is still arguing over the existence of the Australian flag in its current design, speaks volumes.
All Things Considered
New Zealand and Australia may not agree on their flag designs, as they remain remarkably similar and a source of confusion for outsiders, but the flags remain the same as of now.
There is a possibility that one may change in the future but it will probably be New Zealand’s since they’re the only ones to bother bringing it up for a vote.