The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) said it would consult Indigenous people on a new design that “honours the culture and history of the First Australians”.
Queen Elizabeth’s death on September 8 last year was marked by public mourning in Australia but some Indigenous groups also protested against the destructive impact of colonial Britain, calling for the abolition of the monarchy.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, a democracy with Charles III as its head of state. A referendum proposing a switch to a republic was narrowly defeated in 1999.
The central bank said its decision was supported by the centre-left Labor government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who favours an eventual move to an Australian republic.
The new banknote would take “a number of years” to be designed and printed, it said, with the existing $5 note remaining legal tender even after the new design is in people’s hands.
– ‘No longer justifiable’ –
The RBA’s move was hailed by the nation’s republican movement, which noted that Indigenous people predated British settlement by 65,000 years.
“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,” said Australian Republic Movement chair Craig Foster.
“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 at a time of truth-telling, reconciliation and ultimately formal, cultural and intellectual independence.”
The Australian Monarchist League said the decision was “virtually neo-communism in action”.
“Before a referendum is held on whether the people want to retain the King as sovereign or opt for a President, this government has arbitrarily moved to discard the King’s head from Australia’s five dollar note,” it said in a statement.
“It is certainly not Australian democracy.”
A British monarch has featured on Australian banknotes since 1923 and was on all paper bills until 1953, the year of Elizabeth II’s coronation.
The queen’s face adorned the 1-pound banknote and then the new $1 note from 1966.
That first $1 banknote also included imagery of Aboriginal rock paintings and carvings based on a bark painting by Indigenous artist David Malangi Daymirringu.
The queen’s face has peered up at Australians from the polymer $5 note since 1992.
But the central bank’s governor Philip Lowe announced three months ago that it had begun talking with the government about whether to forgo replacing the queen’s image with a portrait of King Charles III.
The bank has made no mention of any plans to remove the monarch’s image from Australian coins.