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Australian Customs Service - Federal era, since 1901

Last modified: 2021-07-31 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | customs | southern cross |
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[Australian Customs flag] image by Clay Moss, 6 Dec 2005
[two-sided] Ratio 1:2

See also:

Australian Customs Flag

Up to 2015, the flag was the Australian national flag with the word "CUSTOMS" written between the Commonwealth star and the Southern Cross.

The Australian Border Force was created on 1 July 2015, combining the functions of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. As a result, the Australian customs flag has been changed to reflect the name Border Force.

This flag is used mostly on Customs aircraft but also on all Customs boats. When the Customs Service works with the Navy, the Navy hoists this flag and under the legislation, as long as there in one Customs Officer on board, then the vessel is a Customs vessel.
Arjeh, 19 February 2001

Reverse of flag

[Australian Customs flag reverse] image by Clay Moss, 6 Dec 2005
[two-sided] [reverse] [sinister]

[The images above] are a faithful reproduction of a customs ensign that the Australian customs folk sent us last year when my Vexillology class was collecting flags. I have no clue if there's a definitive set of specs for the lettering on this flag, so I thought it wise to send that they're actually using.
Clay Moss, 6 December 2005

The Australian Customs flag is illustrated in two publications:

  1. The book Australian Flags [ozf98], page 19.
  2. The latest edition of 'Manifest', Winter 2005, which is the Newsletter of the Australian Customs Service, shows the lettering in bold letters.

The only specification is in respect of the weight of the font and its colour, viz:

"For the purposes of section 14 of the Act the following flag is prescribed, namely, the Australian National Flag with the addition in the fly of the word 'CUSTOMS' in white in bold character."
Source: Regulation 2, Customs Regulations 1926, Statutory Rules 1926 No. 203 as amended, made under the Customs Act 1901 [the primary legislation] Prepared on 25 November 2005, taking into account amendments up to SLI 2005 No. 265 by the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing (OLDP), Attorney-General's Department, Canberra
Colin Dobson, 9 December 2005

As with the New Zealand Customs flag, which is defined similarly, the word "CUSTOMS" definitely does not appear in the "fly" according to the usual vexillological understanding, but in the centre of the lower half of the flag, between the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross. This was the position of the badge proposed for the flag of Papua (and future Australian territories) in 1908, which was also described as "on the fly" of the "Commonwealth Flag (blue ensign)". It seems that "fly" has often been used in regulations to mean any part of a British ensign outside the UJ.
Jonathan Dixon, 1 October 2008

Australia finally discontinued the 113-year-old Customs Regulations reference to 'in the fly' when the new Customs Regulation 2015 was made on 26 March 2015. Although only in effect for three months before introduction of the Australian Border Force, the prescription stated:

Customs Regulation 2015; No 33; 26 March 2015; effective 1 April 2015. 11. For section 14 of the Act, the flag is the Australian National Flag with the word "CUSTOMS" in bold, white letters between the Commonwealth Star and the lower part of the Southern Cross.
Jeff Thomson, 3 July 2017

A 2015 Customs publication has a large photograph of (apparently) the prototype of the 1988 CUSTOMS flag that is of the same form as the FOTW images at the Australian Customs - Federal era page. So this may be taken as the definitive form of the defacement. The alternative type with wider letters reaching from the Commonwealth Star to the Alpha Star is probably from an different supplier, so there may be other unreported defacement variations too.
Jeff Thomson, 1 October 2017

On 1 April 2015 the Customs Regulations 1926 were repealed and replaced by the new Customs Regulation 2015. This made ensign and insignia provisions for Commonwealth aircraft at Regulation 7, ensign provisions for Commonwealth ships at Regulation 8, and prescribed the Customs flag at Regulation 11. At that time the operating agency was the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, and the links below go to Regulations 7, 8 and 11 as originally made in March 2015, and in force for only three months from 1 April 2015 to 30 June 2015.

This new set of regulations was extensively amended on 1 July 2015 as the Australian Border Force replaced Customs. The flag defacement prescription at Regulation 11 changed from CUSTOMS to AUSTRALIAN BORDER FORCE, and the title 'Customs flag' was changed to simply 'flag'. Links to these amended Regulations may be found at the Australian Border Force page.
Jeff Thomson, 24 July 2021

Australian Customs flag prescriptions 1901-1988

Customs Regulations 1901; No 53; Thursday 10 October 2015. 1. The Customs flag shall be the Blue Ensign, with the addition in the fly of the letters "H.M.C." in bold character, and the word "Australia".

Customs Regulations 1904; No 37; 16 June 1904. 1. The Customs flag shall be the flag of the Commonwealth of Australia (blue ensign), with the addition in the fly of the letters "H.M.C." in white in bold character.

Customs Regulations 1909; No 126; 26 October 1909. Flag prescription changed to Regulation 2. Continued unchanged in new Regulations of 1913, 1922 and 1926.

And two later amendments of the Customs Regulations 1926;
No 15; 15 February 1955. 2. The Customs flag shall be the Australian National Flag, with the addition in the fly of the letters "H.M.C." in white in bold character.
No 297; 11 December 1987; effective 1 January 1988. (Customs Regulations 1926 repealed 1 April 2015). 2. For the purposes of section 14 of the Act the following flag is prescribed, namely, the Australian National Flag with the addition in the fly of the word "CUSTOMS" in white in bold character.

Jeff Thomson, 3 July 2017

Australian Customs flag 1901-1988

There is no evidence that there has ever been an official Australian Customs flag diagram produced. Variation in appearance between individual flags is common, including in the Customs flags painted onto Customs aircraft since these entered service in 1978. Below are the appearances of the flags as have been found, and alternative flags either known or believed to have existed. The full stops shown in the prescriptions are unlikely to have been included on the actual flags.

1901 flag; - the British Blue Ensign with 'HMC Australia' in the fly, most likely in white with the HMC in bold block letters. There were probably Commonwealth Blue Ensign versions too, with the six-point Commonwealth Star. But the positions of the defacement and even the number of star-points and positions of the Southern Cross stars in such flags is a matter for speculation.

1904 flag; - the Commonwealth Blue Ensign with the six-point Commonwealth Star and HMC in bold white block letters in the flag lower centre.

1908 flag; - the Commonwealth Blue Ensign (later the Australian National Flag) with the seven-point Commonwealth Star and HMC in bold white block letters in the flag lower centre. One pre-war flag in a private collection has the Southern Cross stars positioned as for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service blue flags, with all five spread out more than standard. The HMC is positioned in the true fly centre.

Jeff Thomson, 3 July 2017

Other Australian ensigns in the Customs Regulations

On 21 December 1983, a new addition to the Customs Regulations (pursuant to Section 59 of the Customs Act 1901) prescribed the particular ensigns and insignia of Commonwealth government ships and aircraft to fly or display when in the service of the Commonwealth and in an enforcement capacity under the Customs Act. But when amended on 16 May 2002 and with Section 59 repealed without replacement, this appears to have become a provision to apply to 'Commonwealth ships' and 'Commonwealth aircraft' at all times generally. These links are to these two amendments of 1983 and 2002:-

So in effect the Customs Regulations from 1983 became the law governing the approved uses and users of the Australian White Ensign, the Australian Customs flag, and the Australian National Flag as Australia's government (state) ensign at national level. Since 2015 even the RAAF Ensign is named in the Customs Regulation in establishing the authority of the RAAF Roundel (or a variation thereof) as an Australian Defence Force aircraft insignia, and the Customs flag has been replaced with the Australian Border Force's flag. The Australian Red Ensign, the RAAF Ensign and the Civil Air Ensign of Australia have no function as 'Commonwealth ship' ensigns for enforcement purposes under the Customs Regulation even though all have been flown, and perhaps are still flown as ensigns by certain Commonwealth Government ships, boats or vessels.
Jeff Thomson, 24 July 2021