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 King to be His 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 King is our head of state. However, as the King lives in Britain, his 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 says that the Parliament is made up of the King, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Section 61 of the Constitution goes on to say that executive power is given to the King and is exercised by the Governor-General. These means the Governor-General is a part of both the Parliament and the executive government, and carries out tasks on behalf of the King.

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 2 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.