Governor-General

The Governor-General has an important role in the governing of Australia. This fact sheet looks at the constitutional, ceremonial and civic roles of the Governor-General.

What will I learn?

  • The Governor-General is the King’s representative in Australia.
  • The Governor-General’s powers in the Australian Constitution gives them an important role in helping to ensure Australia is governed to the rules set-out in the Constitution.

Curriculum alignment

Year 6 ACHASSK143
Year 7 ACHCK048
Year 10 ACHCK090


Who is the Governor-General?

Sir David Hurley and Ms Sam Mostyn.

Sir David Hurley and Ms Sam Mostyn.

The Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,

Sir David Hurley and Ms Sam Mostyn.

Sir David Hurley and Ms Sam Mostyn.

The Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,

Description

Australia's 27th Governor-General Sir David Hurley AC and Australia's 28th Governor-General Ms Sam Mostyn AC

The Governor-General is the King’s representative in Australia. They are appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General is appointed at ‘the King’s pleasure’, that is, without a fixed term but governors-general are given a 5-year term that can be extended. The Governor-General has some responsibility for making sure Australia is governed according to the rules in the Australian Constitution.

The current Governor-General is His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). His term will expire on the 1 July 2024, when Ms Sam Mostyn AC will be sworn in as Australia's 28th Governor-General.

Constitutional role

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. This means the King is our head of state but does not have absolute power; he must follow the Constitution. The King delegates his powers to the Governor-General.

The Governor-General signing a bill.

The Governor-General signing a bill.

Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General

The Governor-General signing a bill.

The Governor-General signing a bill.

Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General

Description

The Governor-General wearing a shirt and tie sits at a desk with a pen in hand signing a piece of paper. Behind him is an Australian flag.

Section 1 of the Australian Constitution says the Australian Parliament is made up of the King (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate and the House of Representatives. Section 61 of the Constitution says executive power is given to the King and delegated to the Governor-General. This means the Governor-General is a part of both the Parliament and the government, and carries out tasks on behalf of the King.

The Constitution gives the Governor-General the power to:

  • give Royal Assent to a bill – proposed law – passed by the Senate and House of Representatives. The Governor-General may recommend changes to a bill; however, no Governor-General has ever refused to give Royal Assent.
  • start the process for a federal election
  • set times for the meeting of Parliament
  • call a joint sitting of Parliament
  • act as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force.

The Governor-General also has reserve powers not included in the Constitution. They come from the authority of the King, who the Governor-General represents. The only guide to these powers is convention – tradition. The use of reserve powers by governors-general is rare and have only been used a handful of times. This means the exact nature and scope of these powers is open to debate.

The Governor-General’s reserve powers are generally agreed to include the power to:

  • appoint a Prime Minister if an election has not resulted in a clear outcome
  • dismiss a Prime Minister if they have lost the support of the majority of members of the House of Representatives
  • refuse a request from a Prime Minister to call an election
  • refuse a request for a double dissolution
  • dismiss a Prime Minister or minister if they break the law.

Ceremonial role

The Governor-General's ceremonial and constitutional roles are closely related. The Governor-General's ceremonial duties include:

  • attending the opening of a new Parliament and making a speech about what the new government wants to do
  • administering the oath of office to the Prime Minister, ministers, judges and other officials
  • meeting foreign heads of state and ambassadors
  • attending Anzac Day ceremonies
  • awarding special honours.

Civic role
The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.

The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.

Office of the Governor-General

The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.

The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.

Office of the Governor-General

Description

The Governor-General, wearing a suit and medals on the left side of his chest, talks to people in a crowd.

 

An important part of the role of the Governor-General is engaging with the Australian community. Some of the ways the Governor-General does this include:

  • visiting places hit by a national disaster, such as floods or fire
  • opening and attending national and international meetings and conferences
  • attending exhibitions, sporting events and functions as an official patron of organisations
  • visiting regions or areas to meet people involved in a particular group or industry.