Finance Finance News Making a mint: Why the Royal Australian Mint collaborates with private businesses
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Making a mint: Why the Royal Australian Mint collaborates with private businesses

A Woolworths employee sorts apples with a coin superimposed on top.
A commemorative Mr Squiggle coin series is entering circulation through Woolworths tills.
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Mr Squiggle and friends are being immortalised in collectible coloured coins, but there’s a catch: fans will have to shop at Woolworths to get one.

The coins featuring the much-loved children’s TV character, who starred on the ABC from 1959 to 1999, have been created at the government-owned Royal Australian Mint in Canberra.

Four $2 coin designs featuring characters from the children’s program of the same name – Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel, Gus the Snail and the eponymous Mr Squiggle – have been entering circulation from Woolworths tills since Tuesday, with the release of each design staggered over a period of four weeks.

The mint has also produced an album of the Mr Squiggle coins to mark the show’s 60th birthday, with each of the $2 coin characters, two $1 coins, and a 1 cent coin. It costs $15.

The Mr Squiggle $2 coin was created by the government-owned mint.

What’s so special about Woolworths?

It’s not the first time the mint has partnered with the supermarket giant for the release of a commemorative coin – it issued 2018’s Possum Magic and Commonwealth Games coin series, as well as 2016’s Olympic and Paralympic Games coins through Woolworths stores.

The mint has also collaborated with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for the release of 15 coins inspired by the stained-glass windows at the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the Anzacs.

So why does the government-owned mint partner with private businesses?

A spokesperson from the mint said the arrangement it had with Woolworths was commercial-in-confidence and couldn’t be commented on.

A Woolworths’ spokesperson confirmed the coins were bought at face value, and that no other money exchanged hands between the two entities.

However, they declined to comment on the terms of the relationship between the two when specifically asked by The New Daily.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to give Australians another reason to shop in our store and commemorative coins are a fun way to achieve this,” the supermarket spokesperson said.

A government cash cow

One of the mint’s roles is to generate revenue for the government, which it does by selling collectible coins and through issuing new coins for circulation.

The latter is achieved by contributing the difference between a newly issued coin’s production cost and its face value – referred to as ‘seigniorage’ – back to the government.

In 2014, the Abbott government contemplated privatising the mint, however the idea was dismissed after a scoping study found “it is operating as an effective business and it is well regarded by its international peers”.

The spokesperson for the mint told The New Daily it earns a “significant margin” through this seigniorage, and in the 2017-18 financial year generated earnings before interest and tax of $19.8 million from its commercial business activity alone.

“The Royal Australian Mint has entered into numerous ‘custom’ minting, corporate minting, joint ventures and dealer agreements to promote, sell and distribute coins: certainly over the last eight years and probably before that,” the spokesperson said.

“We can say that agreements entered into in the last five to eight years have all resulted in a positive margin.”

Any business is able to approach the mint regarding a coin program as well, but the proposed program will be assessed “on its merits against the criteria of it being about Australia”.

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