The Role of the Governor in New South Wales

The office of Governor of New South Wales is the oldest continuous institution in Australia. The first Governor was Captain Arthur Phillip who received his commission in 1786.

Early colonial Governors were appointed by the sovereign and held almost autocratic power until the establishment in 1824 of Australia’s first legislative body, the New South Wales Legislative Council, to advise the Governor.

Between 1850 and 1861 the Governor of New South Wales was appointed Governor-General of all Australian possessions and Governor of each of the colonies, in the hope that it might encourage a movement towards federalism. The intention was that all communications between the colonies and the British Government would be through the Governor-General. However the initiative did not succeed and the practice ceased.

The contemporary role of the Governor has its legal and constitutional basis in the New South Wales Constitution Act 1902 but includes also important ceremonial and community duties.

Constitutional

Section 9A provides that the appointment of the Governor shall be by Commission at “Her Majesty’s pleasure”. Following the enactment of the Australia Act 1986, appointments are made on the advice of the New South Wales Premier, usually for a period of five years. Upon assuming office the Governor takes the oath of allegiance and the oath of office under the Oaths Act 1900.

The Governor’s powers are currently derived from several sources, including:

  • The New South Wales Constitution Act 1902
  • The common law
  • New South Wales statutes
  • The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution
  • The Australia Act 1986; and
  • Commonwealth statutes.

The principal powers and functions of the Governor, express or implied, include the following:

  • to determine the dates of sessions of Parliament
  • to dissolve Parliament and issue writs for a general election
  • to assent bills passed by both houses of the Parliament
  • to appoint the Premier, Ministers of the Crown, judges and senior office holders
  • to preside over the Executive Council
  • to issue regulations and proclamations under existing laws; and
  • to exercise the prerogative of mercy .

In practice the Governor acts only on the advice of Ministers who are responsible to the democratically elected Parliament. That advice is generally conveyed through the Executive Council. However, the Governor cannot be required by the Executive Council or a Minister to act in a manner contrary to the law.

Exceptionally the Governor may act without, or contrary to, the advice of the Executive Council or Ministers in the exercise of the “reserve powers”. These include in certain circumstances the appointment or dismissal of the Premier and the dissolution of Parliament.

Ceremonial

The Governor performs many important ceremonial duties. The formal Opening of Parliament, the Swearing-In of the Premier and Ministers, and investitures under the Australian honours system are cases in point.

The Governor also takes the salute at military and other major parades such as on Anzac Day and Reserve Forces Day – and participates in commemorations such as Remembrance Day, Victory in the Pacific Day and memorials for Australians who lost their lives in wars.

In addition, the Governor receives foreign dignitaries including Heads of State and Government, Ministers, trade and parliamentary delegations and Ambassadors and High Commissioners. She also represents the State from time to time on official visits overseas.

Community

The Governor plays a significant role in reaching out to all sectors of the New South Wales community, promoting social cohesion, advocating the interests of those who are marginalized and educating citizens on the system of government in New South Wales and the role of the Governor.

In fulfilling this role the Governor travels widely throughout the state, participates in conferences, events and speaking engagements, and serves as Patron to over three hundred and sixty community organisations.

The Governor also uses Government House as a venue for functions and events throughout the year which acknowledge the achievements of outstanding individuals and organizations from all over the State.

© 2011 NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet