Powers of the Governor-General

The Governor-General is assigned a number of specific functions in the Constitution.

In practice, most of these functions are only carried out on the advice of the Prime Minister. For example, whilst Section 5 allows the Governor-General to appoint sitting times for Parliament, this is always a decision of the government of the day. On the Prime Minister’s advice, the Governor-General issues the documents necessary to bring the Parliament into session.

Similarly, whilst Section 28 allows the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives, in practice the decision on when to hold an election is always a decision of the Prime Minister.

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  • Section 2: Queen’s Representative.
  • Section 5: Appoints sitting times for Parliament, as well as being responsible for its prorogation and dissolution.
  • Section 19 & Section 21: May accept resignations of Senators and advise State Governors of such vacancies.
  • Section 28: May dissolve the House of Representatives.
  • Section 32: With the Executive Council, may issue writs for House of Representatives elections.
  • Section 33: With the Executive Council, may issue writs for by-elections for the House of Representatives.
  • Section 35: Can accept the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 37: May accept resignations of members of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 42: Administers oath or affirmation of allegiance to members of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 56: Recommends the appropriation of revenue or moneys to the Parliament.
  • Section 57: May dissolve both houses of parliament in the event of a deadlock between them.
  • Section 58: May assent, or withhold assent, to laws passed by Parliament, or reserve laws for the Queen’s assent, or return laws to the parliament recommending amendments.
  • Section 59 & Section 60: In the event of the Queen disallowing any law, or assenting to a proposed law reserved for her pleasure, the Governor-General may by speech or message notify Parliament of her decision.
  • Section 61: Exercises the executive power of the Commonwealth.
  • Section 62 & Section 63: Chooses and summons members of the Executive Council to hold office during his pleasure and to advise him in the government of the Commonwealth.
  • Section 64: May appoint officers (ministers) to departments of State, such officers holding office during his pleasure.
  • Section 65: May decide the number of Ministers of State, in the event of no provision by Parliament.
  • Section 67: With the Executive Council, appoints civil servants.
  • Section 68: Command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth.
  • Section 72: With the Executive Council, appoints Justices of the High Court, and also receives their resignations.
  • Section 126: May appoint person or persons to be his deputy or deputies, exercising such powers as he assign, subject to limitations or directions given by the Queen.
  • Section 128: May submit a referendum proposal passed by only one house of parliament. Also gives assent to referendum results.

Most of these powers are exercised by the Governor-General on the advice of his ministers, through the Prime Minister of the day.

Those powers relating to the dissolution of parliament and the appointment of ministers are known as reserve powers and are the subject of controversy, particularly since the actions of the Governor-General in dismissing Prime Minister Whitlam in 1975.


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