Governor-General of Australia
|This article may require copy editing for grammar (capitalisation). (December 2014)|
|Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia|
|Style||His Excellency the Honourable|
Government House, Canberra|
Admiralty House, Sydney
|Term length||At Her Majesty's pleasure|
|Formation||1 January 1901|
|First holder||The Earl of Hopetoun|
|The neutrality of this section is disputed. (December 2014)|
The constitution of Australia states that the governor-general is the representative of the monarch. Currently, letters patent from Queen Elizabeth II, dated 21 August 2008, also set out certain provisions relating to the governor-general. Australian Solicitor-General Maurice Byers stated in 1974: "The constitutional prescription is that executive power is exercisable by the Governor-General although vested in the Queen. What is exercisable is original executive power: that is, the very thing vested in the Queen by section 61. And it is exercisable by the Queen's representative, not her delegate or agent."
The 1988 Constitutional Commission report explained: "the Governor-General is in no sense a delegate of the Queen. The independence of the office is highlighted by changes which have been made in recent years to the Royal Instruments relating to it." The changes occurred in 1984 when Queen Victoria's letters patent and instructions were revoked and replaced with new letters patent, on the prime minister's advice, who stated that this would clarify the governor-general's position under the constitution. This remains the case even when the sovereign is in the country: Solicitor-General Kenneth Bailey, prior to the first tour of Australia by its reigning monarch in 1954, explained the position by saying: "the Constitution expressly vests in the Governor-General the power or duty to perform a number of the Crown’s functions in the Legislature and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth... The executive power of the Commonwealth, by section 61 of the Constitution, is declared to be vested in the Queen. It is also, in the same section, declared to be 'exercisable' by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative. In the face of this provision, I feel it is difficult to contend that the Queen, even though present in Australia, may exercise in person functions of executive government which are specifically assigned by the constitution to the Governor-General."
As early as 1901 Sir Robert Garran had noted that the governor-general was distinguished from other Empire governors-general by the fact that "the principal and most important of his powers and functions, legislative as well as executive, are expressly conferred on him by the terms of the Constitution itself... not by Royal authority, but by statutory authority," a view held also by Senior Judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania Andrew Inglis Clark, who, with W. Harrison Moore (a contributor to the first draft of the constitution put before the 1897 Adelaide Convention and professor of law at the University of Melbourne), postulated that the letters patent and the royal instructions issued by Queen Victoria were unnecessary "or even of doubtful legality".
The monarch chose not to intervene during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, in which Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labor government of Gough Whitlam, on the basis that such a decision is a matter "clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General". Through her Private Secretary, she wrote that she "has no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with the Constitution". In an address to the Sydney Institute, January 2007, in connection with that event, Sir David Smith, a retired Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia, described the constitution as conferring the powers and functions of Australia's head of state on the governor-general in "his own right". He stated that the governor-general was more than a representative of the sovereign, explaining: "under section 2 of the Constitution the Governor-General is the Queen's representative and exercises certain royal prerogative powers and functions; under section 61 of the Constitution the Governor-General is the holder of a quite separate and independent office created, not by the Crown, but by the Constitution, and empowered to exercise, in his own right as Governor-General... all the powers and functions of Australia's head of state."
The Governor-General's role in Australia's Parliament
The Constitution describes the Parliament of the Commonwealth as consisting of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Section 5 states that "the Governor-General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament ... prorogue the Parliament [and] dissolve the House of Representatives." These provisions make it clear that the Queen's role in the parliament is in name only and the actual responsibility belongs to the Governor-General. Such decisions are usually taken on the advice of the Prime Minister, although that is not stated in the Constitution.
The Governor-General has a ceremonial role in swearing in and accepting the resignations of Members of Parliament. They appoint a deputy, to whom members make an oath of allegiance before they take their seats. On the day parliament opens, the Governor-General makes a speech, entirely written by the government, explaining the government's proposed legislative program.
The most important power is found in section 58: "When a proposed law passed by both Houses of Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent, he shall declare ... that he assents in the Queen's name." The Royal Assent brings such laws into effect, as legislation, from the date of signing.
Sections 58 to 60 allow the Governor-General to withhold assent, suggest changes, refer to the Queen or proclaim that the Queen has annulled the legislation. A number of Governors-General have reserved Royal Assent for particular legislation for the Queen. Such assent has usually been given during a scheduled visit to Australia by the Queen. On other occasions Royal Assent has been given elsewhere. Examples of this have been the Flags Act (1953), the Royal Styles and Titles Acts (1953 and 1973), and the Australia Act (1986).
The Governor-General's role in executive government
At the start of Chapter 2 on executive government, the Constitution says "The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative". The Governor-General presides over a Federal Executive Council. By convention, the Prime Minister is appointed to this Council and advises as to which parliamentarians shall become ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
In the Constitution, the words "Governor-General-in-council" mean the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Council. Powers exercised in council, which are not reserve powers, include:
- establishing government departments
- appointing federal judges, and
- appointing ambassadors and high commissioners.
All such actions are taken on the advice of ministers.
Section 68, says "command-in-chief of naval and military forces ... is vested in the Governor-General as the Queen's representative". In practice, that role is ceremonial, with actual authority in the hands of the Defence Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF).
In an administrative sense, the office of Governor-General is regulated by the Governor-General Act 1974 (Cth).
In the United Kingdom, the reserve powers of the monarch (which are typically referred to as the "royal prerogative") are not explicitly stated in constitutional enactments, and are the province of convention and common law. In Australia, however, the powers are explicitly given to the Governor-General in the Constitution; it is their use that is the subject of convention.
The reserve powers are:
- The power to dissolve (or refuse to dissolve) the House of Representatives. (Section 5 of the Constitution)
- The power to dissolve Parliament on the occasion of a deadlock. (Section 57)
- The power to withhold assent to Bills. (Section 58)
- The power to appoint (or dismiss) Ministers. (Section 64)
Those powers are generally and routinely exercised on Ministerial advice, but the Governor-General retains the ability to act independently in certain circumstances, as governed by convention. It is generally held that the Governor-General may use powers without ministerial advice in the following situations:
- if an election results in a Parliament in which no party has a majority, the Governor-General may select the Prime Minister
- if a Prime Minister loses the support of the House of Representatives, the Governor-General may appoint a new Prime Minister
- if a Prime Minister advises a dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Governor-General may refuse that request, or request further reasons why it should be granted. It is worth noting that convention does not give the Governor-General the ability to dissolve either the House of Representatives or the Senate without advice.
The use of the reserve powers may arise in the following circumstances:
- if a Prime Minister advises a dissolution of Parliament on the occasion of a deadlock between the Houses, the Governor-General may refuse that request
- if the Governor-General is not satisfied with a legislative Bill as presented, they may refuse Royal Assent
- if a Prime Minister resigns after losing a vote of confidence, the Governor-General may select a new replacement contrary to the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister
- if a Prime Minister is unable to obtain Supply and refuses to resign or advise a dissolution, the Governor-General may dismiss him or her and appoint a new Prime Minister.
The above is not an exhaustive list, and new situations may arise. The most notable use of the reserve powers occurred in November, 1975, in the course of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. On this occasion the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the government of Gough Whitlam when the Senate withheld Supply to the government, even though Whitlam retained the confidence of the House of Representatives. Kerr determined that he had both the right and the duty to dismiss the government and commission a new government that would recommend a dissolution of the Parliament. Events surrounding the dismissal remain extremely controversial.
In addition to the formal constitutional role, the Governor-General has a representative and ceremonial role, though the extent and nature of that role has depended on the expectations of the time, the individual in office at the time, the wishes of the incumbent government, and the individual's reputation in the wider community. Governors-General generally become patrons of various charitable institutions, present honours and awards, host functions for various groups of people including ambassadors to and from other countries, and travel widely throughout Australia. the Honourable Sir William Deane described one of his functions as being "Chief Mourner" at prominent funerals. In Commentaries on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Garran noted that, since the Australian executive is national in nature (being dependent on the nationally elected House of Representatives, rather than the Senate), "the Governor-General, as the official head of the Executive, does not in the smallest degree represent any federal element; if he represents anything he is the image and embodiment of national unity and the outward and visible representation of the Imperial relationship of the Commonwealth."
That role can become controversial, however, if the Governor-General becomes unpopular with sections of the community. The public role adopted by Sir John Kerr was curtailed considerably after the constitutional crisis of 1975; Sir William Deane's public statements on political issues produced some hostility towards him; and some charities disassociated themselves from Peter Hollingworth after the issue of his management of sex abuse cases during his time as Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane became a matter of controversy.
Official state car
The Governor-General travels in a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI limousine for ceremonial occasions, such as the State Opening of Parliament. They more commonly use Australian-built luxury cars when on official business. The official cars of the Governor-General fly the Flag of the Governor-General of Australia and display St. Edward's Crown instead of number plates. A similar arrangement is used for the Governors of the six states. When the Queen is in Australia, the Queen's Personal Australian Flag is flown on the car in which she is travelling. During the Queen's 2011 visit to Australia, she and the Duke of Edinburgh were driven in a Range Rover Vogue.
The office of Governor-General was previously used during the mid-19th century in Australia. Sir Charles FitzRoy (Governor of New South Wales from 1846–1855) and Sir William Denison (Governor of New South Wales from 1855–1861) also carried the additional title of Governor-General because their jurisdiction extended to other colonies in Australia.
The office of Governor-General for the Commonwealth of Australia was conceived during the debates and conventions leading up to federation. The first Governor-General, the Earl of Hopetoun, was a previous Governor of Victoria. He was appointed in July 1900, returning to Australia shortly before the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In his first act he appointed the inaugural Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, since the first federal elections did not take place until March.
Early Governors-General were British and were appointed by the Queen or King on the recommendation of the Colonial Office. The Australian Government was merely asked, as a matter of courtesy, whether they approved of the choice or not. Governors-General were expected[by whom?] to exercise a supervisory role over the Australian Government in the manner of a colonial Governor. In a very real sense, they represented the British Government. They had the right to "reserve" legislation passed by the Parliament of Australia: in other words, to ask the Colonial Office in London for an opinion before giving the royal assent. They exercised this power several times. The Queen (that is, the UK monarch acting upon advice of the British Government) could also disallow any Australian legislation up to a year after the Governor-General had given it the assent; although this power has never been used. These powers remain in the Constitution, but today are regarded as dead letters.
The early Governors-General frequently sought advice on the exercise of their powers from two judges of the High Court of Australia, Sir Samuel Griffith and Sir Edmund Barton. That practice has continued from time to time.
During the 1920s the importance of the position declined. As a result of decisions made at the 1926 Imperial Conference, the Governor-General ceased to represent the British Government diplomatically, and the British right of supervision over Australian affairs was abolished. However, it remained unclear just whose prerogative it now became to decide who new Governors-General would be. In 1930, King George V and the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin discussed the appointment of a new Governor-General to replace Lord Stonehaven, whose term was coming to an end. The King maintained that it was now his sole prerogative to choose a Governor-General, and he wanted Field-Marshal Sir William Birdwood for the Australian post. Scullin recommended the Australian jurist Sir Isaac Isaacs, and he insisted that George V act on the advice of his Australian Prime Minister in this matter. Scullin was partially influenced by the precedent set by the Government of the Irish Free State, which always insisted upon having an Irishman as the Governor-General of the Irish Free State.
The King approved Scullin's choice, albeit with some displeasure. The usual wording of official announcements of this nature read "The King has been pleased to appoint ...", but on this occasion the announcement said merely "The King has appointed ...", and his Private Secretary (Lord Stamfordham) asked the Solicitor-General, Sir Robert Garran, to make sure Scullin was aware of the exact wording. The opposition Nationalist Party of Australia denounced the appointment as "practically republican", but Scullin had set a precedent. The convention gradually became established throughout the Commonwealth that the Governor-General is a citizen of the country concerned, and is appointed on the advice of the government of that country.
In 1931, the transformation was concluded with the appointment of the first Australian Governor-General, Isaacs, and the first British Representative in Australia, Ernest Crutchley. 1935 saw the appointment of the first British High Commissioner to Australia, Geoffrey Whiskard (in office 1936-1941).
After Scullin's defeat in 1931, non-Labor governments continued to recommend British people for appointment as Governor-General, but such appointments remained solely a matter between the Australian government and the monarch. In 1947, Labor appointed a second Australian Governor-General, William McKell, who was in office as the Labor Premier of New South Wales. The then Leader of the Opposition, Robert Menzies, called McKell's appointment "shocking and humiliating".
In 1965 the Menzies conservative government appointed an Australian, Lord Casey, and thereafter only Australians have held the position. Suggestions during the early 1980s that the Prince of Wales might become the Governor-General came to nothing due to the prospective constitutional difficulty that might ensue if Prince Charles became King. In 2007 the media[which?] reported that Prince William might become Governor-General of Australia. Both the Prime Minister (John Howard) and Clarence House repudiated the suggestion.
The Governor-General is generally invited to become Patron of various charitable and service organisations. Historically the Governor-General has also served as Chief Scout of Australia. The Chief Scout is nominated by the Scouting Association's National Executive Committee and is invited by the President of the Scout Association to accept the appointment. Bill Hayden declined the office on the grounds of his atheism, which was incompatible with the Scout Promise. He did however serve as the Association's Patron during his term of office.
Spouses of Governors-General have no official duties but carry out the role of a Vice-Regal consort. They are entitled to the courtesy style Her Excellency or His Excellency during the office-holder's term of office. Most spouses of Governors-General have been content to be quietly supportive. Some, however, have been notable in their own right, such as Dame Alexandra Hasluck, Lady Casey and Michael Bryce.
Living former Governors-General
There are six living former Governors-General of Australia. The most recent Governor-General to pass away was Sir Zelman Cowen (1977–1982), who died on 8 December 2011.
|Name||Term of office||Date of birth|
|Sir Ninian Stephen||1982–1989||15 June 1923|
|Bill Hayden||1989–1996||23 January 1933|
|Sir William Deane||1996–2001||4 January 1931|
|Peter Hollingworth||2001–2003||10 April 1935|
|Michael Jeffery||2003–2008||12 December 1937|
|Dame Quentin Bryce||2008–2014||23 December 1942|
Timeline of Governors-General
Unknown extension tag "timeline"
- History of Australia
- Constitutional history of Australia
- Chapter II of the Constitution of Australia
- Federal Executive Council (Australia)
- Governors of the Australian states
- British Empire
- Royal Australian Air Force VIP aircraft
- Governor-General (links to other countries which have Governors-General)
- Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia—official website Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- Constitution section 2.
- Official website—the Governor-General's role Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- "Governor-General Quentin Bryce backs gay marriage, Australia becoming a republic in Boyer Lecture". ABC News. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, pp. 266–269
- The title ‘the Honourable’ for Governors-General, Australian Government Special Gazette S No. 54 of 2013.
- Prime Minister's media release "A New Honour for Pre-eminent Australians", 25 March 2014 Retrieved 2 May 2014
- Constitution section 3.
- Herald Sun, 18 June 2008, Governor-General Quentin Bryce to get pay rise
- Governor-General Act 1974 (Cth), sections 3 and 4; the pension is 60% of the salary of the Chief Justice at the end of the Governor-General's term.
- Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (The Constitution), as amended and annotated, Prepared by the Office of Legislative Drafting, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, as at September 2013 
- Letters Patent from The Queen, dated 21 August 2008, also set out certain provisions relating to the Governor-General. The Constitution does not describe the Governor-General’s power, it prescribes it.
- A Mate for Head of State
- Office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia - Principal - Letters Patent - 21/08/1984, Prerogative Instrument - C2004Q00670
- David Smith, The Role of the Governor-General
- Statement by the Prime Minister to the House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates, Vol. H of R. 138, 24 August 1984, p.380. The Prime Minister tabled a copy of the amended Letters Patent relating to the office of Governor-General, together with the text of a statement relating to the document, but for some unknown reason he did not read the statement to the House, nor did he seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard. The statement was later issued by the Prime Minister's Press Office.
- The annotated constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, p 390
- "The Governor-General is our Head of State"
- "of Representatives Practice (5th Edition)". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
- "Royal prerogative". A Dictionary of British History, online edition. Oxford University Press.
- Maer, Lucinda; Oonagh, Gay (30 December 2009). "The Royal Prerogative" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Sir Garfield Barwick (17–19 November 1995). "A View of the External Affairs Power". Retrieved 17 January 2011.
- "USRS Australia: Blog for the U.S. Mission to Australia". Usrsaustralia.state.gov. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Constitution section 58.
- Constitution section 59.
- Donald Markwell, "Griffith, Barton and the Early Governor-Generals: Aspects of Australia's Constitutional Development" (1999) 10 Public Law Review 280.
- Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, p. 269
- "Chief Scout". Scouts Australia. Retrieved 2007-11-15. >Kittel, Nicholas (1 August 2007). "A century of Scouts a reason to celebrate". 666 ABC Canberra (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2007-11-15.
In his address the Governor-General also explained his role as Chief Scout. "Really the Chief Scout tries to go around to as many scout groups as he can and say 'well done' to all who are taking part and to encourage a strengthening of the movement."[dead link]
- "Brief Comments". On Target from Australia (Australian League of Rights) 25 (13). 14 April 1989. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- Cowen, Sir Zelman (2006). A Public Life: The Memoirs of Zelman Cowen. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press.
- Cunneen, Christopher (1983). King's Men: Australia's Governors-General from Hopetoun to Isaacs. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-86861-238-3.
- Gerangelos, George A., ed. (2013). Winterton's Australian Federal Constitutional Law (3 ed.). Pyrmont, NSW: Thomson Reuters. ISBN 978-0-45523-041-2.
- Hayden, Bill (1996). Hayden: an Autobiography. Pymble, NSW: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0-207-18769-X. (pp 515, 519, 548)
- Markwell, Donald (1999). "Griffith, Barton and the Early Governor-Generals: Aspects of Australia's Constitutional Development". Public Law Review 10: 280.
- Williams, George; Brennan, Sean; Lynch, Andrew (2014). Blackshield and Williams Australian Constitutional Law and Theory (6 ed.). Annandale, NSW: Federation Press. ISBN 978-1-86287-918-8.
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to Governors-General of Australia.|
- "The Office of the Governor-General". Official website. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- "Governors-General". Australian Government. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
- "Letters Patent, 21 August 1984". ComLaw. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- "Governor-General Act 1974 (Cth)". ComLaw. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
- A Mirror to the People a 58-minute documentary film on the Office of Governor-General of Australia 1999. Dir: Daryl Dellora. Features Sir William Deane, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen. Special Commendation ATOM Awards.