Governor-General of Australia

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The Governor-General of Australia is a position established by the Constitution of Australia, proclaimed on 1 January 1901, to exercise executive power in the Commonwealth of Australia as the representative of the monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia). As such, the Governor-General acts as Head of State in the absence of the monarch, and the role is thus termed "vice-regal".

Sections 2 and 61 of the Constitution formalise the position of the Governor-General. Several Letters Patent (dated 21 August 1984 and 15 May 2003) executed by the monarch further explain the powers and position of the Governor-General.

Contents

Title

"His Excellency, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia"

Appointment

The Governor-General is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. After receiving their Commission, the Governor-General makes an Oath of Allegiance and an Oath of Office to the monarch and issues a Proclamation assuming office.

Formally, the Governor-General's appointment is at the monarch's pleasure. In practice, however, there is an expectation that appointments will be for five years, subject on occasion to some extension.

Dismissal

It is also contemplated that the Prime Minister may advise the monarch to appoint another Governor-General before the expiration of the incumbent's expected period of office, meaning that a Governor-General may be dismissed. (Dismissal has been actively contemplated by at least one Prime Minister, and on another occasion a Governor-General resigned before dismissal.)

Current and former office-holders

The current Governor-General, since his swearing into office on 11 August 2003 as the twenty-fourth Governor-General, is His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery, AC, CVO, MC (Retd), a former officer in the Australian Army whose commands included the Special Air Services Regiment. He formerly served as Governor of Western Australia from 1993-2000.

People who have been appointed Governor-General, so far all men, have included: various ranks of British/Australian nobility, former military officers, former Justices of the High Court of Australia, and former federal Ministers.

The first Australian-born Governor-General was Sir Isaac Isaacs (1931-36).

Two former Governors-General have been of the Jewish faith.

Executive Power

When exercising the executive power of the Commonwealth, in accordance with long established constitutional practice, the Governor-General acts on the advice of Ministers who are responsible to the Parliament. That advice is conveyed through the Federal Executive Council. The Governor-General presides at meetings of the Executive Council which are attended by at least two Members of the Executive Council.

The Governor-General is also Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Forces, although in practice the Minister for Defence and Chief of the Defence Force exercise military control and command.

Administrator of the Commonwealth

In the absence overseas or incapacity of the Governor-General, a person can 'administer' instead. In practice, this is normally the longest-serving Governor of a State of the Commonwealth.

Practical powers

The functions and roles of the Governor-General include: appointing Australian ambassadors to foreign nations and accepting foreign ambassadors to Australia; appointing Ministers, judges and officers of the Australian Defence Force; giving Royal Assent to legislation passed by both houses of federal parliament; issuing and receiving writs for elections; and, bestowing honours and awards.

Ceremonial role

The Governor-General has an important ceremonial role, that includes:

  • receiving and entertaining visiting heads of state, heads of government and other prominent visitors to Australia,
  • opening new sessions of the Commonwealth Parliament,
  • receiving and formally entertaining many Australian citizens and representatives of organisations active in the life of the community, and
  • travels widely throughout Australia to attend services, functions, commemorations and exhibitions of local significance, lending their encouragement to individuals and groups who are making a substantial contribution to their communities.

When travelling abroad, the Governor-General is seen as the representative of Australia, and of the Queen of Australia, and is treated as a head of state in most ways. An example was the attendance of the Governor-General of Australia at the wedding on 14 May 2004 of Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark to Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, an Australian citizen.

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