ABC RADIO NATIONAL WITH CATHIE SCHNITZERLING
THURSDAY, 12 JANUARY 2023
SUBJECTS: King Charles III coin effigies, cashless society
CATHIE SCHNITZERLING (HOST): If you go through your wallet right now and you’ve got some coins in there, the silver and gold coins will have the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. She’s been on Australian coins since 1953 after her father King George VI’s death in 1952. But with her passing last year new coins with the face of King Charles will come into circulation. Last year the Royal Australian Mint confirmed they will begin minting coins with the effigy of King Charles III early in 2023. But is that still the plan?
Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Charities, Competition and Treasury. Hello, Andrew.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: G’day, Cathie. How are you?
SCHNITZERLING: Very well, thank you. When will the Royal Australian Mint start producing and circulating the new coins?
LEIGH: We’re expecting it in the second half of this year. There’s a more complicated process than you might imagine in terms of designing an effigy, having it cleared with Buckingham Palace and then testing that the dies work. One of the challenges in producing these coins, Cathie, is that the dies need to be able to last for some 200,000 to 300,000 coins. And so the image needs not only to be an appropriate likeness but also one that can be printed again and again. Now, coin production is mass manufacturing.
LEIGH: The Mint is the biggest manufacturing business in Canberra. And there’s been some 15 billion coins printed with the Queen’s likeness since 1966.
SCHNITZERLING: That’s amazing.
LEIGH: It’s amazing, yeah.
SCHNITZERLING: And how often do they have to replace those dies that cast the coins?
LEIGH: Yeah, so every couple of hundred thousand coins that are produced they’ll update the dies and then periodically they’ll update the effigy. So we’re now up to the sixth effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and that goes through an evolution as her reign continued. But it is pretty extraordinary to think that the first time she appeared on our coins they were shillings and pence and that we’ve only ever in the period since decimal currency had her on our coins. So it’s a big change.
SCHNITZERLING: Yeah, I think when I first see one with King Charles’ face on it, or his head on a coin, it will be quite astonishing, because we’ve taken it for granted, generations of having the Queen’s face on our coins.
LEIGH: There’ll be a doubletake. I imagine some people will look at it and say, “This doesn’t look like an Australian coin. It doesn’t have a woman on it.”
LEIGH: So there is a real change there. There’s a protocol change, so one of the interesting things that happens is that if you look at the way Queen Elizabeth is facing she’s facing to the right at the moment, and King Charles will face to the left.
SCHNITZERLING: A big difference.
LEIGH: Yes. Every time there’s a change in monarch there’s a change, a symbolic change, in direction.
SCHNITZERLING: Where does that come from?
LEIGH: It dates back into history. I think it’s simply a way of denoting the change in the reign. But it’s certainly been happening on British coins for many, many years. You know, many of us now are digital nomads, we work on tap and pay rather than using coins. But coins still have a symbolic value. Now they’re used in vending machines. Certainly kids make more use of coins than grownups, and they’re, of course, in high demand by collectors, as you mentioned before.
SCHNITZERLING: Yes. Now, who designs the effigy? Because, as you said, it has to be suitable to actually go into a die that is going to last for a couple of hundred thousand uses. How do you go about designing the effigy of the King’s head?
LEIGH: It’s something we’re still working through at the moment. And, you know, the hope is to be able to have an image which could be unveiled sometime around the coronation of King Charles in May 2023 and then have the coins coming into production sometime after that. But there’s lots of moving parts in this, Cathie, in terms of the design, the approvals and so on. And when we do, then the coins will start to roll out. Just in the last year alone the Mint produced some $57 million worth of circulating coins. So it is a huge mass production business once it gets going. And then the collectible coins will be in high demand I suspect.
LEIGH: Collectors will be keen to get their hands on one of the first coins with the King on it.
SCHNITZERLING: I’m sure they will. And then they’ll be worth a lot of money those ones. Now, what is involved in phasing out coins that have Queen Elizabeth II on them?
LEIGH: There’s no phaseout – they’ll stay in circulation. A typical coin lasts around 30 years.
LEIGH: And so the majority of the change in your wallet is going to have a queen on it rather than a king on it for several years to come I would imagine. There’s no risk that those coins with the Queen will cease to be legal tender. In perpetuity you’ll be able to use coins with the Queen as easily as coins with the King. So it will just be a matter of how many of us lose the coins down the back of a couch. Eventually those coins do wear out if they’re used enough, but many of them I think are simply lost rather than worn out. Unlike notes, which do deteriorate in a few years, coins have an extraordinary life.
SCHNITZERLING: Yes, as tough as those notes are. Now, Queen Elizabeth II was the longest‑reigning monarch in the British aristocracy. Is the Royal Australian Mint – and, of course, the Queen of Australia. Is the Royal Australian Mint planning to release a special coin to remember her reign?
LEIGH: Well, we have coins that will be coming out soon which have the years of her reign and the years of her life on them. And that’s reflecting the fact that we don’t yet have the new effigy of the King, but since the Queen’s passing it’s appropriate to have on the 2023 coins an acknowledgement that these are coins bearing the face of a monarch who’s passed.
SCHNITZERLING: And they’re not in circulation yet? They’re going to come into circulation?
LEIGH: Yes, they’ll be the coins that will be coming into circulation in the first half of this year. Obviously we need to continue printing coins. But we’re in this phase where there isn’t an agreed effigy of the new king, and so this seemed to be the most appropriate way of continuing to print coins with the Queen’s face on it.
SCHNITZERLING: You’re listening to ABC Radio. My name’s Cathie Schnitzerling, and I’m speaking with Andrew Leigh. He’s the Assistant Minister for Charities, Competition and Treasury, and it is a quarter past 10, a quarter past 9 in Queensland.
So once you’ve got the design for the effigy, which I imagine there’s a process here in Australia to call for submissions for that or you go to regular artists who you know to design the effigy, then I imagine there’s an approval process before it’s sent off for approval to Buckingham Palace? Is it that the way it goes?
LEIGH: That’s right. So the Australian government will approve it, then we’ll send it to Buckingham Palace. Put simply, the King needs to approve his own face being on Australian coins. And then we go into the testing process, making sure that the die is absolutely right and that the life cycle of the dies can be as good as it’s been in the past.
SCHNITZERLING: How many coins does the mint produce each year?
LEIGH: $57 million is the total value, and so obviously we’re talking hundreds of millions of coins there. Increasingly it’s the collectible coins which are in demand as the demand for circulating coins has dropped. But the Mint is an extraordinary operation. I mean, their presses churn out 650 coins a minute. So if any of your listeners are visiting Canberra – and as a Canberra MP I’m always encouraging people to visit the nation’s capital - a visit to the Mint is great. You can go into the observation galleries above and actually see the working presses below you – literally see your money being made before you.
SCHNITZERLING: Now, you mentioned that there has been a decline in demand for coins for basic circulation. Is that due to more of us now not using cash?
LEIGH: That’s right. There’s been a strong move away from cash as people are choosing to tap and pay for things that we always used to do before with notes and coins. So charitable donations are much more typically are done by tap and go or pay online, all sorts of vendors are accepting tap and go payments. Credit card or debit card usage is at an all-time high. So we are increasingly becoming a cashless society.
But it’s important to make sure we’ve got those notes and coins out there for people who are unbanked, for people who don’t want to move into digital transactions and for people who simply enjoy the tangible presence of currency in their hands.
SCHNITZERLING: I feel really strange always if I use my debit card to pay for coffee. I sort of think why aren’t I just using money? Why don’t I just use coins? And I’ve actually changed my habits so that I do pay for my coffee with money now. Just so I can see it going down.
LEIGH: I was in the library the other day; they were selling off some old books they had. So I bought a bunch of them for the kids. They were selling them off for 10 cents each and I think my total purchase came to 60 cents. And I’ve got to say, Cathie, I felt rather embarrassed by the fact I had no cash on me.
SCHNITZERLING: It’s weird, isn’t it?
LEIGH: So I had to tap for the 60 cents. Like you, it felt like the sort of amount that I ought to be pulling out coins for.
SCHNITZERLING: Out of your pocket somewhere.
SCHNITZERLING: When it comes to making new coins, does the Mint melt down older coins that have come out of circulation?
LEIGH: There’s not a process for handing back those coins. It’s new metals that are used to make the coins. And, you know, they’re typically able to make a coin which has a face value for higher than what it costs to produce. The exception to that is the 5 cent coin, which costs a little under 10 cents to produce at the moment.
SCHNITZERLING: So it costs more to produce them than what they’re worth?
LEIGH: That’s right.
SCHNITZERLING: I never thought about that.
LEIGH: The Mint’s losing money on every 5 cent piece it produces for you.
SCHNITZERLING: And is it going to last? Someone asked me this today: will the 5 cent piece last or will it go with the 1 and the 2 cent piece?
LEIGH: Well, the challenge is when we got rid of 1s and 2s the rounding problem was easy – you know, 1 cent, 2 cents goes down; 3 cents, 4 cents goes up. If you get rid of 5 cents then it’s not obviously which way the rounding goes, and that’s true every time you get rid of an odd-numbered coin. So if you’ve got an amount of 95 cents, does that go down to 90 cents or does it go up to a dollar? You’d have to have some kind of arbitrary rule there and that might be a little more difficult to put in place.
SCHNITZERLING: Could be a little more difficult, yeah.
LEIGH: For the time being there’s no intentions of getting rid of the 5 cent piece. The government will continue to cop the couple of cent loss on every one of those coins that we produce.
SCHNITZERLING: So if it costs more to make the coins than what they’re worth, does that mean the mint is losing money?
LEIGH: It’s losing money on 5 cent coins.
SCHNITZERLING: Just the 5 cent coins?
LEIGH: Overall the mint makes a healthy profit due both to its circulating coins and also to its collectibles.
SCHNITZERLING: And the collectibles, you said that there’s an increase in demand for them?
LEIGH: Yes, there’s huge interest in collectibles. And, you know, if you go into the Mint you can find all kinds of interesting coins there. One of my favourite ones was done along with the Australian Signals Directorate, which has a special coding 50 cent coin. Perfect for teenagers who are interested in cracking codes. There are codes built into the coin, and one of the objectives as part of the collectible set is to try and crack the code.
SCHNITZERLING: Who knew? That’s pretty amazing. That’s great.
LEIGH: It’s great. You know, and the boffins at the Mint are always thinking up interesting ideas for collectible coins to mark anniversaries. So Chinese New Year will have a set of collectible coins associated with it. And there’s a set of coins honouring a whole range of prominent Australians over the years.
SCHNITZERLING: Let’s just turn to bank notes now. And I know that the Treasurer Jim Chalmers looks after bank notes. Queen Elizabeth II is on the Australian $5 note at the moment. Is it likely that she’ll be removed?
LEIGH: Yeah, look, we haven’t made a decision on that. That’s something we’ll sort out in time. It’s a decision that will be made in consultation with the Reserve Bank of Australia who’s responsible for producing those bank notes.
SCHNITZERLING: Why is the $5 note the only one to feature Queen Elizabeth?
LEIGH: Look, there’s been a tradition for much of the time, though not all of the time, that the lowest denomination of notes features a picture of the Sovereign, and that’s a tradition that goes back, and we’re current actively considering whether we continue that or move to a new approach.
SCHNITZERLING: You are a mint of information about the Mint. It’s been eye opening. Thanks for joining us here this morning on ABC Radio.
LEIGH: A really pleasure, Cathie. Thanks for the conversation.
SCHNITZERLING: Thank you. Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Charities, Competition and Treasury, talking about the new coins that will come into operation in the second half of the year that will bear the effigy of Prince Charles – of course, Prince Charles, King Charles. I’ve just been corrected. That is the second time today I’ve said Prince Charles. The King’s face will be on the coins in the second half of this year.