‘Collector’s item’: Australians utilise quirk that entitles citizens to free portrait of the Queen

Under little-known nationhood obligation, MPs supply patriotic objects including flags, national anthem recordings and portraits of the monarch

When Helen Browne woke to the news of the Queen’s death, she rang her federal MP.

Browne was hoping to secure one of the last complimentary portraits of Elizabeth II on offer in Australia, part of a little-known entitlement to citizens under a nationhood obligation.

Her motivation was purely financial – Browne is a second-generation Irish Australian who opposes the monarchy but thinks Queen Elizabeth II “was OK”.

“They’ll become a collector’s item,” she said.

In 2018, a viral article published by online magazine Vice exposed the quirk that entitles Australians to a free portrait of the monarch from their federal MP.

Under the obligation, citizens can ask for certain patriotic objects under the “nationhood material program” – including Australian flags, national anthem recordings and official portraits of Queen Elizabeth.

Department of Finance guidelines say senators and federal MPs are able to spend as much as they like on the material as long as it doesn’t push their overall office expenditure above the required annual budget.

The article led to a flurry of requests in parliamentary offices across the nation.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II supplied by Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese's office
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II supplied by Anthony Albanese's office in Grayndler. Photograph: Caitlin Cassidy/The Guardian

Some MPs delivered their Queen portraits with complimentary Australian flags, while others inserted promotional material for the Australian Republic Movement.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, opted to hold a gathering in a Melbourne pub, offering portraits of the Queen alongside other notable “queens” including SBS host Lee Lin Chin, queen bees and Beyoncé.

Alice Chambers was among those who stood in line, eagerly awaiting an A4 print. It hung in her share-house until she threw it out a few years later.

“I really just did it for a bit of fun,” she said. “It’s sad to hear of her passing but I hope we’re a step closer to becoming the republic.”

A spokesperson for Bandt’s office said they still had a “couple dozen” portraits available at his office.

No inquiries had been made on the day of her death, but there were usually a steady one or two a month – predominantly from young people and university students.

“As for receiving portraits of the King, we don’t have update on the timeline but we’ll continue to hand out portraits when we do,” the spokesperson said.

At Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese’s office in Sydney, three variations of the Queen were on offer – a couple shot with her late husband, a regal close-up and a garden shot featuring a summery green dress.

A staff member said they had been giving them out “more than usual” on the day of her death but there was still plenty in stock, at least for now. No more portraits would be ordered until, at an appropriate time, images of King Charles III would replace her.


Caitlin Cassidy

The GuardianTramp

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