Flat White

A republic by stealth: why the King belongs on the $5 banknote

Jake Durrington

Getty Images

Jake Durrington

30 November 2022

7:00 AM

Do Australians know who is on their banknotes? How many of us, if asked randomly on the street, would be able to say with certainty who Mary Reibey ($20), David Unaipon ($50), and Nellie Melba ($100) are? Extremely few of us I’d bet. Unfortunately, even less could describe their significance to Australia.

Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II – who hopefully everyone should know of by now – the Reserve Bank of Australia began the process of re-designing the $5 banknote and is currently in consultations with the Federal Treasurer and Albanese government on what the next design should be. You would be mistaken for believing King Charles III would automatically replace the Queen on the note.

This month, Treasurer Jim Chalmers publicly indicated he did not want the new monarch to appear on the new design. ‘It’s not a decision that I take, or certainly not a decision that I take alone,’ he remarked. Just as well. The King or Queen of Australia has been on at least one of Australia’s banknotes since 1923 and was on all of our notes until 1953. This would be a serious break from tradition.

The Albanese government is now attempting to bring cancel culture to our banknotes. It is curious, given the Royal Australian Mint seems to believe the King will feature on our coins next year.

Whilst the new Labor government may have been elected this year with a mandate to progress a second referendum on a republic, they have not been given a mandate to begin implementing a ‘republic by stealth’. The result of such a referendum is certainly not a foregone conclusion if recent polls are to be believed.

Strategic moves like this are not new in Australia. One side of politics has a particular flair for removing anything that ties us to our British foundations, tearing down national symbols, severing our ties to the Commonwealth and connections to our heritage – which ought to be celebrated for its success. This is the pathway of pulling down statues, rewriting history, and expunging our past – our story.

Of course, many things have changed over the years: different oaths of allegiance, the introduction of the ‘Senior Counsel’ instead of ‘Queens Counsel’, the Queen’s portrait removed from some buildings, the wording of statutes and laws, symbolism of the Crown disappearing from public, and vast changes to the honours system to name a few.

The last time I looked, Australia was still a constitutional monarchy and we are still part of the Commonwealth. Until the Australian people make the choice themselves to change to a republic, the government should acknowledge the King in the same way as his predecessor – as Sovereign of this country. It shouldn’t be imposing republican objectives on our nation.

King Charles’ relationship with Australia is not why the Sovereign should be featured on our banknote. This question is far greater than just our opinion of King Charles III as a person. But it is worth noting the King very arguably holds the same level of affection for Australia and its people as his late mother, the Queen.

In 1966, then Prince Charles came to Australia to study at Geelong Grammar and their remote Victorian school facility ‘Timbertop’. So keen was the young Prince to learn about and be amongst his future subjects as King of Australia, after only three weeks in the country he even chose to stay an additional term – totalling six months. ‘I loved it and I learnt a lot from it,’ His Majesty remembers fondly about his time studying in Australia. He also said, ‘It is no exaggeration to say that Australia and Australians have held a very special place in my heart ever since I came to this country.’

No doubt this experience marked the beginning of the King’s very special relationship with Australia. As Prince of Wales, he established the Prince’s Trust which has been instrumental in changing the lives of many young Australians. He has visited Australia 16 times in an official capacity, touring our farthest regions, celebrating our bicentenary in 1988, and opening the 2018 Commonwealth Games among memorable occasions. As our King, he now serves as Sovereign Head of the Order of Australia and since 1977 he has held the honorary appointment as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. All Australian Defence Force personnel now serve King and country as loyally as they served Queen and country.

Put simply, what the Crown represents as an institution – the stability and security our system of government – should be recognised, acknowledged, and celebrated. The fact remains the Crown is the living embodiment of executive power in Australia and holds this on trust for the benefit of all its subjects.

In our constitutional monarchy, the strength of the Crown lies not in the power it holds, but in the power it denies others. Others who could be elected to power, who find a way to stay in power – unwieldy, unhinged, and unchecked – and never leave because they win elections with a totally realistic 96 per cent support in a ‘democratic’ vote.

No more was the success of our constitutional monarchy celebrated than following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. There is no better way for Australia to honour Her Majesty’s life of service and contribution to our system of government, than to protect the institution of the Crown, our traditions, and freedoms. Our national symbols are on the frontline of attack.

The RBA acknowledges there is strong public interest in the decision it makes on this issue. Australians will be watching closely to see whether the independent statutory body keeps with tradition or does the bidding of a Federal government itching to exceed its electoral mandate.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.


Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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