Function of the Governor

 

Introduction

Associate Professor Richard Herr of the University of Tasmania said that “the primary role of the modern Australian governor is as a form of insurance.  It is a hedge against constitutional impropriety.  Since this role is so rarely needed, it has become more customary to think of the governor in terms of the secondary activities associated with this office – the pomp and the ceremony.  These activities have an important role in unifying society and recognising community service but the primary purpose of separating the head of state from the head of government should not be forgotten.”  That primary purpose is described below.

Appointment

The office of the Governor is apolitical and is quite distinct from that of the head of the elected Government (the Premier).  The Governor is appointed personally by The Queen on the advice of the Premier. The Governor is the Queen's representative in the State of Tasmania and is authorised by the Australia Act 1986, s7 to exercise all the powers of the Queen (except the power to appoint a Governor) although Her Majesty is not precluded from exercising any of her powers while she is actually in Tasmania. 

The Governor is appointed ‘at the Queen's pleasure', meaning there is not a fixed term.  However, the practice is for the Premier to reach an agreement with an incoming Governor that he or she will serve for a specified period, usually four or five years, before tendering his or her resignation.  The appointment is made by a document called a Commission, which is signed by the Queen.

Constitutional powers & duties

Essentially the Governor's role is to safeguard the Tasmanian Constitution and the democratic parliamentary system of government that Tasmania and the other Australian States enjoy.  The Governor is also required to ensure that there is an orderly transition from one government to the next, and to facilitate the work of the Parliament and the government of the State.

The Constitution Act, s10 provides that, “The Governor and the Legislative Council and House of Assembly shall together constitute the Parliament of Tasmania.”  It is the duty of the Governor to sign all the Bills that have been passed by the two Houses of Parliament in order to make them part of the law of Tasmania. 

In addition, the Governor exercises executive power, but, (except in very unusual cases – see reserve powers below) only on the advice of Ministers who are responsible to the Parliament. That advice is generally conveyed through the Executive Council (comprising the Premier and Ministers).

The Governor regularly presides over a meeting of the Executive Council.  The Governor has a duty to ensure that the processes of the Executive Council are conducted lawfully and regularly, and accordingly may ask questions and seek further information from Ministers.  For example, if the Governor is advised by the Executive Council to appoint a person to a statutory board and the legislation requires the appointee to have certain qualifications, the Governor is entitled to refuse to make the appointment until he is satisfied that the prospective appointee has the requisite qualifications. 

The Governor has other constitutional powers, including the power to:

  • dissolve Parliament and issue writs (commands) for a general election;  
  • appoint Ministers and dismiss them;
  • issue regulations and proclamations under existing laws;
  • appoint judges, royal commissioners and the most senior public servants; and
  • exercise the prerogative of mercy (that is, the Governor may issue pardons to prisoners and remit fines or sentences imposed by courts).


The Governor usually holds regular meetings with the Premier to discuss matters of State business and although he or she must remain aloof from party politics.  The view expressed by the Victorian economist and writer, Walter Bagehot (1826-77) remains valid that a Governor has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn".

Reserve powers

In exceptional circumstances the Governor is authorised, indeed required, to act notwithstanding the absence of advice from his Premier or even contrary to that advice. This involves the exercise of the "reserve powers". Following the enactment of the Australia Act, it would seem that the Governor's reserve powers are restricted to:

  • the appointment of a Premier;
  • the dismissal of a Premier, if he or she has lost the confidence of the Assembly or is unable to secure supply, or is acting illegally;
  • as a corollary to the last, to dissolve the House of Assembly and call an election; and
  • refuse to dissolve the House of Assembly if the Premier has lost the confidence of the House but there is another who can gain that confidence.

Ceremonial duties

The Governor officiates at many important ceremonies, such as the formal Opening of Parliament, the Swearing-In of the Premier and Ministers and the Investiture of Australian Honours (bestowed on people for their service to the community, or for bravery). Read More about Australian Honours. Governors usually "take the salute" at important parades such as Anzac Day; participate in commemorations such as Remembrance Day in November; deliver addresses on significant occasions and officiate at the opening of major conferences or substantial new buildings and facilities.

Community duties

It is part of the Governor’s duty to interact with the community and to try to emphasise that the things that bind the community are stronger than the things that divide it; to encourage the enduring values of right thinking people, such as mutual respect, tolerance, support and goodwill.

It is also part of the Governor’s duty to encourage a high level of achievement in the arts, industry, education and sport, and in the service of those in need; to convey, on behalf of the community, recognition and gratitude to those who deserve it and to encourage Tasmanians to be a caring society; caring for one another and caring for the wonderful environment in which we are so fortunate to live.  

To discharge his or her community obligations the Governor and his or her spouse will travel throughout the State meeting Tasmanians from all walks of life.  The Governor is patron of around 100 not-for-profit organisations; the Governor's spouse is also patron of about 20 organizations.  Government House is used by the Governor as a venue for receptions and other events that encourage and acknowledge the achievements of individuals and organisations. Thousands of people attend such functions each year.