Australia doesn’t want King Charles III on its new banknotes

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King Charles III was snubbed by Australia’s central bank when it announced an overhaul to the appearance of one of its banknotes.

The country’s central bank announced on Thursday that it had decided to update Australia’s $5 bills, replacing the image of Queen Elizabeth II not with her successor, but with “a new design that honors the culture and history of the First Australians.” The other side of the notes will continue to be printed with an image of the Australian Parliament.

First Australians is a term used in Australia to refer to the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who lived in the country for thousands of years before it was colonized by Britain.

“This decision by the Reserve Bank Board follows consultation with the Australian Government, which supports this change,” the Reserve Bank of Australia said in a news release.

It added that it would consult with First Australians on the design, but that the new notes would not be circulating for “a number of years.”

Australia’s $5 bills are currently the country’s only banknotes that bear a portrait of the British monarch. Other notes carry images of prominent historical figures, including women’s rights activist Edith Cowan, and the inventor and Aboriginal rights campaigner David Unaipon.

All of the coins in circulation in Australia feature a profile of Queen Elizabeth II. The Australian Royal Mint will begin making coins with the effigy of King Charles III this year.

The decision not to include the new sovereign—who will be coronated on May 6—on the country’s banknotes has divided opinion in Australia.

Craig Foster, chair of the Australian Republic Movement, said in a statement on Thursday that the central bank’s scrapping of the monarchy across its bill designs was “an important symbolic step” and a recognition of First Australians “in our national story.”

“Australia believes in meritocracy, so the idea that someone should be on our currency by birthright is irreconcilable [with that value],” he said.

“To think that an unelected king should be on our currency in place of First Nations leaders and elders and eminent Australians is no longer justifiable. Australians deserve to see themselves, and only themselves reflected in…all national symbols, including our currency.”

The announcement was also welcomed by Lidia Thorpe, a senator in Australia’s Greens party, who referred to the changes as “a massive win” for Indigenous peoples who were fighting to “decolonize” Australia.  

This is a massive win for the grassroots, First Nations people who have been fighting to decolonise this country. First Nations people never ceded our Sovereignty to any King or Queen, ever. Time for a Treaty Republic! pic.twitter.com/J4LjyFXwUe

— Senator Lidia Thorpe (@SenatorThorpe) February 2, 2023

However, the removal of Australia’s head of state from its banknotes was not received well by some lawmakers.

Peter Dutton, leader of Australia’s opposition Liberal party, described the exclusion of Charles III from $5 bills as “woke nonsense” and an “attack on our systems, our society and institutions” in an interview with radio station 2GB Sydney.  

Meanwhile, senator for the Australian Liberal party Dean Smith told Australia’s ABC News he believed the central bank had “missed a unique opportunity” to merge different aspects of the country’s history.

“A design incorporating both our new King and an appreciation for Australia’s Indigenous heritage and culture would be a better and more unifying approach,” he argued.

Debate around Australia’s relationship with the British crown has always existed, but it intensified following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September.  

In 1999, Australia held a landmark referendum on whether to replace the monarchy with a president. Almost 55% of those who voted rejected the proposal, while 45% said they wanted to cut ties with the U.K.’s royal family.

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