It's just a bill, but the symbolism is immense. King Charles III as head of state will not be featured on Australia's five-dollar bill, the central bank announced on Thursday.
Unlike in the UK, where the Royal Mint has already issued new pound notes featuring Charles, Australia's portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II will be replaced with a design that celebrates Aboriginal culture and history. "Head off," commented the newspaper "The Australian". This means that the royals will no longer be represented on any bank note Down Under.
"And so it begins. Slowly," tweeted Peter Hunt, once the BBC's Royals Correspondent. Because the decision promptly fueled the discussion about Australia's form of government, which has not only flared up since the Queen's death on September 8, 2022. The conservative opposition was outraged. "This is another attack on our system, our society and our institutions," opposition leader Peter Dutton told radio station 2GB. The head of the pro-monarchy group, Philip Benwell, was harsher: "This is practically neo-communism in action," he scolded. Both blamed the Liberal government.
Are Australia's monarchy days numbered?
In fact, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has repeatedly hinted at making Australia a republic. The head of the organization Australian Republic Movement, Craig Foster, now took up such demands. It is unthinkable that an unelected king would be featured on Australia's currency, Foster said. Rather, Australians and Australian symbols should be visible. The Greens spoke of a "massive victory" for the indigenous population, who have been fighting for the decolonization of the country for years. Green politician Lidia Thorpe had already spoken out in September in favor of putting the late Aboriginal activist "Uncle" Jack Charles on the note.
The central bank announced that it would consult with representatives of the indigenous population for the design. Other notes already feature famous Aboriginal figures and artworks.
The discussion about the monarchy has recently been particularly heated in Australia. Thousands protested against the crown on a national day of mourning in honor of the Queen. Flags were burned, painted over in the colors of the Aboriginal flag in homage to the Queen. Aborigines in particular associate the monarchy with the colonization and oppression of indigenous peoples. The change in the British throne is an unwelcome reminder of history for many. During a recent visit to London, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong demanded that Great Britain must finally face up to its "uncomfortable" colonial history.
Australia as an ex-colony not alone
In a referendum in 1999, a narrow majority of Australians voted in favor of the monarchy. Polls recently gave a narrow result. Prime Minister Albanese has promised a new referendum if he is re-elected.
But Australia is not the only ex-colony with Charles as head of state where the form of government is being debated. In November 2021, the Caribbean state of Barbados had already ceremoniously renounced the royal family - in the presence of the then Prince Charles. Recently, the heads of government in Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have also hinted at such plans. The fact that Charles' son Prince William revived memories of colonial impressions during a visit to the Caribbean in spring 2022 in a white gala uniform and standing in an open SUV did not help the monarchy. The British Royals expert Catherine Mayer spoke of "disastrous optics".
In Australia, it will be a few more years before the new notes - without Charles - come into circulation, as the central bank has clarified. Until then, the five-dollar bills will continue to be printed with the Queen's face, as has been the case since 1992. They remain valid afterwards. Treasury Secretary Jim Chalmers said: "It's important to remember that the monarch will continue to feature on our coins." There Charles soon takes over from his mother - just like on the pound and pence pieces in the United Kingdom.