An Australian Republic
With one of our own as head of state

Brand new $5 note. Same old Queen

I’m no graphic designer but I don’t reckon you need to be to know that the new $5 note has missed the mark — unless the designers’ aim was to depict E. coli at dusk.

 $5 note redesign

But what the nation’s wags have most embraced about the new design is the opportunity to reimagine our fiver with someone, anyone, apart from the Queen on the petri dish side.

Among the most compelling photoshops that have emerged since the new design was announced are images of Dame Edna, Aboriginal land rights icon Vincent Lingiari, and the great Cathy Freeman.

And the wags have got a point. Surely, in 2016, the Reserve Bank of Australia can think of a more appropriate person to put on our national currency than another nation’s monarch.

Now this is nothing against the Queen. As I’ve said before, she is a public figure worthy of our respect and admiration. And she has served this nation, along with many others, with dignity and care.

But that is just the point, the Queen acts as the head of state for many countries. Keeping her on our fiver doesn’t say anything about Australia as a unique nation with our own identity and values.

Now I know national identity and values can be pretty tricky things to define. As legendary singer/songwriter John Williamson mused in his classic hit True Blue: “Is it standing by your mate when he’s in a fight, or just vegemite?”

All the same, we are pretty good as a country at agreeing when someone or something doesn’t fit the bill. Just think Nick Kyrigios after a close call goes against him or, most famously, Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of knights and dames into Australia’s honours system.

Keeping the Queen on the fiver doesn’t say anything about Australia as a unique nation with our own identity and values. (Pic: Chris Jackson — WPA Pool/Getty Images)

While the new banknote may not be another “Prince Philip” moment, it does represent a missed opportunity to reflect our changing identity through our currency.

In announcing the new design, the RBA referred to focus groups, and the “culmination of a process of extensive consultation with subject-matter experts and the cash-handling industry”.

Aside from wondering how so many bacteria lovers made it into the focus groups, I’d guess that the identity of the person selected to front the fiver was not one of the matters up for consideration — and that is a shame.

Instead of sticking with the status quo, the RBA could have selected a quintessentially Australian hero — someone whose words and deeds embody our collective values. Better still, rather than relying on the opinions of a few focus groups and the cash-handling industry (whatever that is), the RBA could have included the real cash handlers of Australia — the people — in determining who should be on the front of our fiver.

It is not as if there is a shortage of good candidates to choose from. The Fred Hollows Foundation has recently been running a campaign to Put Fred on the Fiver. That idea has received strong public support and frankly I think he’d be more than worthy.

But what I believe even more passionately is that the Australian people deserve a say in matters of national identity both great and small. Just as the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) advocates for a plebiscite to determine whether we want to replace the Queen with an Australian as head of state, why not have a vote on whether the people want to replace Her Majesty with an Aussie on our fiver?

And while the ARM is working to secure a vote on the question of an Australian head of state by 2020, we could solve the currency conundrum much faster. And we wouldn’t need a plebiscite either, a simple online survey would do the trick.

Removing the Queen from the five dollar note should not be considered an act of disrespect. After all, she still has pride of place on the back of Australia’s loose change stocks. Instead, such a move should be considered a natural progression for a country that has 115 years of achievement and achievers to show off.


This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 12 April 2016.


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