Will Australia become a republic?

Central bank to remove royals from banknotes as government considers new referendum on cutting ties with the British monarchy

Sydney Opera House
Recent polls suggest a growing number of Australians back change to their system of government
(Image credit: PxHere)

King Charles III will not replace Queen Elizabeth II on Australia’s new $5 banknotes, the country’s Reserve Bank has announced amid growing calls to cut ties with the British monarchy.

The decision to instead adorn the banknote with a design that “honours the culture and history” of indigenous Australians ends a “century-long tradition”, said The Sydney Morning Herald. The swap has also stoked speculation that Australia may opt to end its status as a constitutional monarchy.

In a 1999 referendum, Australians voted by 54.87% to 45.13% against becoming a republic. But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appears to be paving the way for a fresh vote.

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What did the papers say?

The Queen’s death in September “reignited a simmering republican debate in Australia”, said Al Jazeera, and came four months after the Australian Labor Party, “long supporters of the republican movement”, were elected to power.

The country’s republicans view the Queen’s death as “a pivotal moment” for a possible change in their political system, said the Financial Times (FT). The treasurer of Australia, Jim Chalmers, this week welcomed the banknote change as striking a “good balance’” for Australia in the post-Elizabethan era.

Assistant minister Matt Thistlethwaite told Time magazine that “it’s time for us to move into the Australian era”.

A growing number of voters appear to agree. A poll for the Sydney Morning Herald of 1,606 Australians found that support for independence from the UK rose from 35% to 40% in the four months following the Queen’s death.

The fallout from Prince Harry’s memoir has also “seen more Aussies support Australia becoming a republic”, said the Daily Mail, “but not because they agree with the ‘evil Royals’ narrative – they’re just sick of the drama”.

“Why do we still need to keep borrowing a dysfunctional British family to be Head of State of Australia?” asked government services minister Bill Shorten during a television interview last month.

Opponents hope that the new UK monarch may save the day, however. In an article for Spectator Australia, legal academic David Flint insisted that King Charles’s accession had not “opened the gate” to “some dubious politicians’ ‘republic’” in Australia.

There are also practical objections. Dennis Altman, a professorial fellow at La Trobe University, argued on The Conversation that becoming a republic would essentially be a “symbolic” act and that “it is hard to see what effectively would change”.

What next?

Nothing is expected to change any time soon. Following his election win last May, Albanese had “started preparing Australians for a debate on becoming a republic”, said ITV News. But hopes of an imminent referendum were dashed following the Queen’s death, when the prime minister signalled that he would not hold a referendum on whether Australia should become a republic in his first term, which lasts three years.

And when or if a vote is eventually held, victory for republicans is not guaranteed. Turning Australia into a republic will be “no easy task”, said Time, because a successful referendum requires a “double majority” – more than 50% of the total population, and a majority of voters in four out of six states.

Flint argued in Spectator Australia that the monarchy is “more supported and more popular” than ever and that “in a second referendum, a republic would, most likely, suffer a greater defeat than in 1999”.

But with Caribbean countries including Antigua, Barbuda and Jamaica also looking to cut ties with the British monarchy, public opinion in Australia may shift, according to Cindy McCreery, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Sydney who specialises in monarchy and colonialism.

“When those countries become republics, and there are fewer Commonwealth realms, more Australians may look around and think, ‘we really part of a shrinking group of nations…maybe it is time for us to join those countries,’” McCreery told Time.

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