King Charles III will not succeed Queen Elizabeth II on Australia’s 5-dollar bill, which will instead be redesigned to honor Indigenous Australians and their history.
The decision, announced by the country’s central bank on Thursday, rekindled debate about republicanism in Australia, with critics decrying it as “woke nonsense” and others lauding the change. Although Australia is independent, it remains a constitutional monarchy with the British sovereign as its head of state.
“The 5-dollar note will say more about our history and our heritage and our country, and I see that as a good thing,” Jim Chalmers, Australia’s treasurer, said at a news conference announcing the decision. The Indigenous element would come in the note’s design, he added, rather than being the work of a specific Aboriginal designer.
It will take several years to be designed and printed, according to the bank. The 5-dollar bill (worth about $3.57) is the only Australian note that features the monarch, and earlier bills have featured examples of ancient and contemporary Aboriginal art. Charles is set to replace Elizabeth on Australian coins, the government announced a few weeks earlier.
For critics, the absence of the monarch from the bill was yet more evidence of a stealth government effort to impose republicanism on Australia.
“There’s no question about this that it’s directed by the government,” Peter Dutton, the leader of Australia’s right-wing opposition, told an Australian talk radio station. “It’s another attack on our systems, on our society and our institutions,” he added, describing it as more “woke nonsense” that must be tolerated by a “silent majority.”
Philip Benwell, the leader of the Australian Monarchist League, was even more strident in his criticism.
“It is virtually neo-communism in action,” he said in a statement that described Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as “working assiduously to topple” King Charles III.
After his election last year, Mr. Albanese appointed Australia’s first minister for the republic, prompting speculation that a referendum on the issue would follow.
Mr. Chalmers, the treasurer, disputed these allegations.
“It’s no secret that I would like to see Australia become a republic, but this is a simpler, nearer-term change,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity here to recognize the monarch on our coins, recognize First Australians on the 5-dollar note, and I think that strikes a good balance.”
Surveys suggest that fewer Australians favor the status quo regarding the monarchy than in the past. In one recent poll, 31 percent said they were in favor of retaining the monarchy, down from 54 percent in the last official referendum on the issue, which was held in 1999. (Australia became fully independent from Britain in 1942.)
The Australian Republic Movement applauded the new design and the recognition of Indigenous history. The head of the organization, Craig Foster, a former captain of the Australian soccer team added: “Australia believes in meritocracy, so the idea that someone should be on our currency by birthright is irreconcilable, as is the notion that they should be our head of state by birthright.”
Dixon Patten, an Indigenous Australian designer and artist based in Melbourne, said the new bill would hopefully precipitate more conversations about the values of modern Australia.
Ideally, he said, he would like to see images of native flora and fauna, or scenes of “country,” an Indigenous phrase referring to Australian lands and waterways, on the note.
“Everyone, when they come to this beautiful country, is a contemporary custodian of the land,” he added.