Fact Sheet – Governor-General [PDF 313kb, 2 pages]

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.


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 Hasluck, Rt Hon Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla, 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

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