All Australian Citizens Are Legally Entitled to a Portrait of the Queen
But in New Zealand, you'll have to pay.
Me and my queen. All images by the author
Queen Elizabeth II. She’s arguably the most famous person in the world and she’s owned more than 30 corgis, which is one for every three years she’s lived. She’s also the only person in the UK who doesn’t need a driver’s license to drive, nor a passport to travel. And if you’re an Australian citizen, you’re legally entitled to your very own portrait of her.
Under what’s called the “constituents’ request program,” constituents (voters) are eligible to receive certain “nationhood material.” Most of this pertains to assorted Australiana—flags, recordings of the National Anthem, and the like—but it also includes a portrait of Her Majesty. And all you have to do to get one is email your local MP.
As a good constituent and apparent royalist, I sent an email to my local MP, Andrew Hastie, and requested Liz’s portrait. While I was initially told his office was out of stock—I apparently wasn’t the first Western Australian to want Elizabeth on my wall—three weeks later I had my portrait, along with some complimentary Aussie flags for good measure.
Just look at her. She’s beauty, she’s grace, and she’s wearing her beloved sapphires her father, King George VI, gave her as a wedding present in 1947. Her curls match the curled embroidery of her gown. Her expression evokes Chrissy Teigen’s iconic crying face from the Golden Globes. She also looks like any grandmother disappointed by how little her family is eating.
But you’re not only entitled to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Oh no. You may also request a portrait of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. But who’d want that? Unfortunately, portraits of Will, Kate, Meghan Markle, or any of the Queen’s corgis are unavailable.
The portrait is specifically for Australian audiences; her lapel pin sports the Australian coat of arms, and she’s wearing her “wattle spray” brooch she dons only for Australians. Robert Menzies gave her the brooch on her first royal visit to Australia in 1954. She’s since worn it to various Australian and Commonwealth events. Now she can wear the brooch every day in my apartment, reigning above my plebeian friends who inevitably ask: why do you have the Queen on your wall?
The portrait request program is also uniquely Australian. Only Australians can receive portraits. UK citizens have to purchase them, and Canadians can only download them, although some Redditers believe it’s also available upon request. Official portraits aren’t available to other Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, India, and South Africa.
A few weeks after I received my portrait, I opened an email from Andrew Hastie, to whose mailings I was now subscribed after I contacted his office. It seems I had inspired the conservative MP to hang his own portrait:
So intrigued by the royal commotion I had apparently caused the Canning electoral office, I reached out to Keegan Nicholls, Hastie’s electorate officer, for more information about the constituents’ request program. Nicholls confirmed that while flag requests are frequent—typically two or three per week—he rarely receives portrait requests. He estimates that he's had three or four portrait requests in the past few years. The program is government-funded and he traces its origin back to the Parliamentary Entitles Act 1990.
While the portrait request program is laughable, it strikes at the heart of the monarchical debate in Australia. In 2012, Bob Brown called into question the federal funding used for the program. Couldn’t that taxpayer money be better spent on public welfare?
“If there is extra money available,” Bob Brown motioned in parliament, “I suggest that it go to ensuring that Indigenous people in Australia who are being deprived of their first languages be given an education in their first languages and that we stop some first languages going to extinction in this country. I think that might have priority. However, if there are members opposite who cannot find a picture of Her Majesty, I would be happy to provide them with one.”
The article continues below, but here's a related VICE doco: We visit a snake lolly factory
Republicans like Brown argue that Australia’s participation in the monarchy wastes tens of millions of taxpayer dollars per year. While the 1999 referendum found that 54.87 percent of Australians want to remain a constitutional monarchy, a recent report shows that number is dwindling, especially among young Australians. Do Australians still take pride in the monarchy, or is it all just an outdated—even colonialist—waste of public money?
That said, Queen Elizabeth herself is far more popular than the monarchy. A poll published by The Sydney Morning Herald found that 34 percent of republicans want a republic only after Elizabeth’s reign, which is totally understandable because Prince Charles kind of sucks. Malcolm Turnbull said it best when he tweeted a photo of himself with the Queen: “Although I am a Republican, I am also an Elizabethan.”
It’s best to enjoy Her Majesty’s portrait like we enjoy her role in our government. She is, technically, the sovereign. But she’s not there to rule—she’s there for decoration. And what a fabulous decoration she is.
Follow Nicholas Lord on Twitter
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.