The Governor-General has an important role in the governing of Australia. This fact sheet introduces the constitutional, ceremonial and civic roles of the Governor-General, and the history of the position.
According to Section 2 of the Australian Constitution, the Governor-General is appointed by the Queen to be Her Majesty's representative in Australia. They are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, usually for a term of 5 years. The Governor-General has some of the responsibility for ensuring that Australia is governed according to the rules set out in the Constitution.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the Queen is our head of state. However, as the Queen lives in Britain, her powers are delegated to the Governor-General who lives in Australia. Together with the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Governor-General is a part of the Australian Parliament. The Governor-General does not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the government but has a role in both the government and the Parliament.
The Governor-General is not part of the government or the opposition and must remain neutral. Whenever the Governor-General makes a public statement, they avoid personal opinions and do not comment on political and other controversies.
Section 1 of the Australian Constitution states that the Parliament 'shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives'. Section 61 of the Constitution goes on to state that 'the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative'. These provisions mean that the Governor-General is a part of both the Parliament and the executive government, and carries out tasks on behalf of the Queen.
The Constitution sets out some specific tasks for the Governor-General, including:
- giving Royal Assent to a bill - proposed law - passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Governor-General may recommend changes to a bill; however, no Governor-General has ever refused to give Royal Assent
- starting the process for a federal election
- appointing times for sessions of Parliament to be held
- convening a joint sitting of Parliament
- acting as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force.
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 intends 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, in their role as the Chancellor of the Order of Australia.
The Governor-General is in constant contact with the Australian people. These duties include:
- opening and attending national and international meetings and conferences
- attending exhibitions and sporting events
- attending functions as an official patron of organisations
- visiting regions or areas to meet people involved in a particular group or industry
- visiting places hit by national disaster, such as floods or fire.
The Governor-General's residences
There are 2 official residences that can be used by the Governor-General and their family:
- Government House, in Canberra.
- Admiralty House, in Sydney.
Australia has had 26 Governors-General.
The first Governor-General was the Right Honourable John Adrian Louis Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, who served from 1901 to 1903.
The first Australian-born Governor-General was the Right Honourable Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs, who served from 1931 to 1936.
The first female Governor-General was the Honourable Dame Quentin Alice Bryce AD, CVO, who served from 2008 to 2014.
The Governor-General signing a bill.
Office of the Governor-General
The Governor-General wearing a shirt and tie sits at a desk with a pen in hand. Two other men sit on the other side of the desk.
Permission should be sought from Office of the Governor-General for third-party or commercial uses of this image. To contact the Office of the Governor-General fill in the form located at https://www.gg.gov.au/email-contacts or phone 02 6283 3533
The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.
Office of the Governor-General
The Governor-General, wearing a suit and medals on the left side of his chest, talks to people in a crowd.
Permission should be sought from Government House for third-party or commercial uses of this image. To contact Government House fill in the form located at http://www.gg.gov.au/contact.php or phone: 02 6283 3533