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 five 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 Australia's 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 the Parliament and the Executive, and carries out tasks on behalf of the Queen (See Separation of Powers: Parliament, Executive and Judiciary). The Constitution sets out some specific tasks for the Governor-General, including:
- giving Royal Assent (approval) to a bill 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 (see Preparing for a New Parliament)
- appointing times for sessions of Parliament to be held
- convening a joint sitting of Parliament (see Double Dissolution)
- 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 federal 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 of 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.
Australia has had 26 Governors-General.
The first 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 current Governor-General is His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd).
|2008–2014||Bryce, The Honourable Dame Quentin Alice, AD, CVO|
|2003–2008||Jeffery, Major General Michael, AC, CVO, MC|
|2001–2003||Hollingworth, The Right Reverend Dr Peter, AC OBE|
|1996–2001||Deane, The Honourable Sir William Patrick, AC, KBE|
|1989–1996||Hayden, The Honourable William George, AC|
|1982–1989||Stephen, Rt Hon. Sir Ninian, KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC|
|1977–1982||Cowen, Rt Hon. Sir Zelman, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC|
|1974–1977||Kerr, Rt Hon. Sir John Robert, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC|
|1969–1974||Rt Hon Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck, KG, GCMG, GCVO|
|1965–1969||Casey, Rt Hon Richard Gardiner, Baron Casey, KG, GCMG, CH, DSO, MC, PC|
|1961–1965||De L'Isle, Rt Hon William Philip Sidney, lst Viscount De L'Isle, VC, KG, GCMG, GCVO, PC|
|1960–1961||Morrison, Rt Hon William Shepherd, 1st Viscount Dunrossil, GCMG, MC, QC, PC|
|1953–1960||Slim, Field Marshal Sir William Joseph, 1st Viscount Slim (Yarralumla and Bishopston), KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC|
|1947–1953||McKell, Rt Hon Sir William John, GCMG, PC|
|1945–1947||Henry, Duke of Gloucester, HRH Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden, KG, KP, KT, GCB, GCMG, GCVO,|
|1936–1945||Hore-Ruthven, Brigadier General the Rt Hon Alexander Gore Arkwright, lst Baron Gowrie, VC, GCMG, CB, DSO, PC|
|1931–1936||Isaacs, Rt Hon Sir Isaac Alfred, GCB, GCMG, PC|
|1925–1931||Baird, Rt Hon John Lawrence, 1st Baron Stonehaven, GCMG, DSO, PC, JP, DL|
|1920–1925||Forster, Rt Hon Henry William, lst Baron Forster, GCMG, PC, DL|
|1914–1920||Munro-Ferguson, Rt Hon Sir Ronald Craufurd, GCMG, PC|
|1911–1914||Denman, Rt Hon Thomas, 3rd Baron Denman, GCMG, KCVO, PC, JP|
|1908–1911||Ward, Rt Hon William Humble, 2nd Earl of Dudley, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, TD, PC|
|1904–1908||Northcote, Rt Hon Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Northcote, GCMG, GCIE, CB, PC|
|1903–1904||Tennyson, Rt Hon Hallam, 2nd Baron Tennyson, GCMG, PC|
|1901–1903||Hope, Rt Hon John Adrian Louis, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, KT, GCMG, GCVO, PC|
Source: Governor-General's website