Governor-General

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.

Constitutional monarchy

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.

Constitutional role

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.

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 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.

Civic role

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 two official residences that can be used by the Governor-General and their family:

  • Government House, in Canberra.
  • Admiralty House, in Sydney.

History

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

The Governor-General sitting at a desk signing a bill.

Office of the Governor-General

Description

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.

The Governor-General engaging in ceremonial duties.

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

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.