The Governor-General is Australia's de facto head of state, and is appointed by the reigning monarch of the British Commonwealth on the advice and recommendation of the Prime Minister. The official head of state for Australia is the reigning monarch of the British Commonwealth (presently Queen Elizabeth II).
The office of Governor-General was created when the Australian Constitution enterred into force on January 1 1901. The first Governor-General, Rt Hon John Adrian Louis Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, was British; an Australian did not become Governor-General until the appointment in 1931 of Rt Hon Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs, the ninth Governor-General.
The Governor-General is commander-in-chief of the Australian armed forces, and is responsible for signing into law all Acts of the Australian Parliament, and many (though not all) Regulations made under those Acts. He is responsible for the calling of elections and the appointment of the Prime Minister. He also has "reserve powers", which are rarely used, and whose boundaries are not clearly defined within the Constitution.
Whilst in theory the Governor-General wields almost dictatorial powers, in practice his powers are very limited. By Convention, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and Ministers, i.e. he does what they say. He is advised by the Executive Council, which consists of the current and all former Comonwealth ministers, although only the current ministers are permitted to attend its meetings.
The office of Governor-General is regulated primarily by the Australian constitution and by the Governor-General Act 1974.
The issue of becoming a republic (ie. removing the constitutional ties with the British monarchy) continues to be raised repeatedly in Australia, although the idea was defeated in a nationwide referendum held in 1999. In most of the proposed republican models, the office of the Governor-General is effectively preserved (in the practical sense described above), although the title is changed to President.
Canada also has an office of Governor-General, similar to that of Australia.
Governors-General of Australia
- Peter Hollingworth, 2001 - present, 23rd Governor-General
- William Deane, 1996 - 2001, 22nd Governor-General
- William Hayden, 1989 - 1996, 21st Governor-General
- Ninian Stephen, 1982 - 1989, 20th Governor-General
- Zelman Cowen, 1977 - 1982, 19th Governor-General
- John Kerr, 1974 - 1977, 18th Governor-General
- Paul Hasluck, 1969 - 1974, 17th Governor-General
- Richard Casey, 1965 - 1969, 16th Governor-General
- William de L'Isle, 1961 - 1965, 15th Governor-General
- William Morrison, 1960 - 1961, 14th Governor-General
- William Slim, 1953 - 1960, 13th Governor-General
- William McKell, 1947 - 1953, 12th Governor-General
- Henry Albert, 1945 - 1947, 11th Governor-General
- Alexander Hore-Ruthven, 1936 - 1945, 10rd Governor-General
- Isaac Isaacs, 1931 - 1936, 9th Governor-General
- John Baird, 1925 - 1931, 8th Governor-General
- Henry Forster, 1920 - 1925, 7th Governor-General
- Ronald Munro-Ferguson, 1914 - 1920, 6th Governor-General
- Thomas Denman, 1911 - 1914, 5th Governor-General
- William Ward, 1908 - 1911, 4th Governor-General
- Henry Northcote, 1904 - 1908, 3rd Governor-General
- Hallam Tennyson, 1903 - 1904, 2nd Governor-General
- John Hope, 1901 - 1903, 1st Governor-General