PATRICIA KARVELAS: One of the more tangible changes Australians will notice from the ascension of King Charles to the throne will be on our currency. According to the 1965 Currency Act, the face of the reigning monarch must be on all our coins, and pieces bearing the image of the new King will come into circulation from next year. But the face of Queen Elizabeth is also on the $5 note and replacing those will be a longer process. Responsibility for the Mint lies with the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh, and Andrew Leigh is our guest this morning. Andrew Leigh, welcome.
ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning, Patricia. Great to be you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How extensive will the changes to our currency have to be with the ascension of King Charles.
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, there will be a new effigy, so the back of every coin in Australia will change, and it’s a pretty historic change. The Queen has been on the back of Australian coins since 1966, when decimal currency began. Over that period, there’s been more than 15 billion Australian coins printed, all of which have had Her Majesty’s portrait on the back. So there’ll be a new effigy produced – King Charles III – and that will be appearing on Australian coins at some stage next year.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so coins with a portrait of King Charles will come into circulation, as you say, from next year. Will coins with the face of his mother then stay in circulation? What’s the process for how that works?
ANDREW LEIGH: They will. People who are worried about whether they can use their coins should know that coins remain legal tender and will remain legal tender all the way in the future, but you’ll start to see this change as the effigy is produced. The protocol, Patricia, is that the Royal Mint in Britain supplies an effigy to the Australian Mint. That’s then confirmed with Buckingham Palace and the coins appropriately go into circulation.
One factor that your listeners might find interesting is that there’s a protocol of switching the direction that the effigy faces.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, the big question is: how much will this process all cost?
ANDREW LEIGH: It’s a small cost in terms of the transition, Patricia. The Mint is constantly updating its dies and so the process of moving to a new effigy is not expected to have a tangible cost.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, the five dollar notes issued for next year will bear the face of King Charles or could the decision be made to have the face of an Australian on them; how does that work?
ANDREW LEIGH: Yes, I mean that’ll be a decision for the government, which will happen down the track. We haven’t decided precisely what we’re doing with the five dollar note at this stage.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so to be clear on the five dollar note, we shouldn’t assume that King Charles will be on that five dollar note?
ANDREW LEIGH: No, that’ll be a decision to be made down the track. The coins are straightforward in the sense that they bear the effigy of reigning monarch. The five dollar note is less certain.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What’s your view on the five dollar note, then?
ANDREW LEIGH: Oh, I think it’ll be a conversation we’ll have within government. I don’t think there needs to be any particular rush on it. Certainly, there’s a great deal of affection for Queen Elizabeth II in the community at the moment and so we’ll have an appropriate conversation around that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: A couple of questions from listeners to RN Breakfast, and one of the things I often say, because I deeply believe it is they ask better questions than anyone, will the change to the coins lead to scammer tactics? How do you deal with that, that potential?
ANDREW LEIGH: I don’t expect so, but certainly the Mint has appropriate procedures in place in order to minimise the risks that people are ripping others off. There’ll be an appropriate publicity campaign around this, so people will be able to check the appropriate design of the coins simply by going to the Mint’s website.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And another question is, why can’t we just change the Currency Act to potentially remove the monarch from our currency. I mean, we could do that, couldn’t we?
ANDREW LEIGH: It is. It’s simply a matter of regulation. The government doesn’t propose to do that. We’ll be continuing the tradition of having the reigning monarch on our coins.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And what do you think about that? Why don’t you intend to change that? Why isn’t that something that you would see as a priority?
ANDREW LEIGH: Look, I think it’s a long tradition. You had the Prime Minister speaking earlier about the importance of traditions, binding us together. This is something that has been a feature of Australia since 1901. Of course, Queen Elizabeth’s portrait also appeared on pounds, shillings and pence when we had those from 1953 through to 1966, so this is a very longstanding tradition.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We’ve been told by the Prime Minister that now is not the right time for any discussion about a republic, and obviously there’s national mourning, international mourning going on right now. When is the right time, in your view?
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, I think there’s a national period of mourning. Parliament won’t be sitting for the next 15 days. The Queen’s funeral is yet to take place. In all of those circumstances, I think it’s not appropriate to be focusing on our constitutional future, but, instead, focusing on the remarkable life of service that Queen Elizabeth II has put in.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It’s been revealed that the Melbourne Writers Festival cancelled a debate on Australia becoming a republic following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Do you think that was necessary, to cancel debates like that?
ANDREW LEIGH: Look, that’s completely a matter for them. I can understand the balance of the conversation they’d be having. You can see reasonable arguments in both directions and presumably there will be books written on the topic as to whether that was the right call or not.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: There will be and there’ll be a lot of discussion as there is in the community right now. Look, there’s another issue that you’re dealing with at moment that I think is enormous and is a looming problem for our country. We heard yesterday on RN Breakfast that volunteering is down 10 per cent on pre‑pandemic levels. What are charities telling you and what are some the solutions?
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, volunteering really is such a fundamental way of assisting Australian communities, and also gives the helpers high – that pleasure that people get from giving back to their communities. We’ve seen even before the pandemic that volunteering was on the wane, down from about 34 per cent to about 30 per cent, and then as a result of the pandemic seems to have gone down to about 26 per cent according to the ANU surveys. I’ve been holding ‘Building Community’ forums in every state and territory capital, meeting with Australian charities in my role as Assistant Minister for Charities and they’re telling me about how difficult it is to find volunteers – challenges for charities such as Meals on Wheels and charities that work with aged care in particular, but also local sporting groups that really depend on the strength of the volunteering community. So, I would encourage your listeners who’ve thought about maybe volunteering in their community, go to the Volunteering Australia website, have a look at some of the opportunities there and dip your toe in the water.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I cannot believe I didn’t think to ask this question. I was very focused on imagery on our coins, but I must ask: is the five cent coin going to be over soon?
ANDREW LEIGH: I don’t think we’ve got any immediate plans to get rid of the five cent coin.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Immediate? I heard the word “immediate”, what does that mean then?
ANDREW LEIGH: You did – you did indeed. We don’t have any plans to get rid of the five cent coin. The easy thing about the one and the two cent coins is that you didn’t have the rounding problem. When you get rid of the five cent coin, the rounding issue isn’t obvious, whether you take 95 cents down to 90 cents or up to a dollar. So that, I think that will slow down the removal of the five cent coin.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: All right. Good to know. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
ANDREW LEIGH: My pleasure, Patricia. Good to chat.