Role of the Governor

Appointment of the Governor

The office of the Governor is non-political 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 Queen's relationship to Australia is unique. In all her duties relating to Australia, she speaks and acts as Queen of Australia and not as Queen of the United Kingdom. For further information please refer to ‘The Monarchy Today' website.

The duration of the appointment is described as ‘at the Queen's pleasure', meaning there is not a fixed term. Recent practice has been that Governors serve in office for about five years.

The appointment is made through a document called a Commission, which is signed by the Queen. On being sworn in to office, the Governor takes an Oath of Allegiance and an Oath of Office under the Oaths Act 1936. (For the content of the oaths, click here)

In certain situations (including illness or absence of the Governor, or a vacancy in the position), the Lieutenant Governor may be appointed as the Governor's Deputy or Administrator. For information about the role of the Lieutenant Governor, click here.

The salary of the Governor is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal (s 73 of the Constitution Act 1934). All Governors except the first, Governor Hindmarsh, have lived at Government House during their term in office.

 

Role and Powers of the Governor

Essentially the Governor's role is to safeguard the South Australian Constitution by securing the orderly transition from one government to the next, and facilitating the work of the Parliament and the government of the state.

The Governor is no longer in any way subject to the direction, supervision or veto of The Queen or the British Government. The Governor represents and is responsible to the South Australian community. Since the late 1960s, all of South Australia's Governors have been Australian citizens.

The Governor's powers are now principally derived from the Australia Act 1986 and from the Letters Patent issued by The Queen on 14th February 1986. (At this time, the few constitutional links that still remained between Australia and the United Kingdom were formally severed and new provisions put in place.)

The role of the Governor (the Vice-Regal representative) has changed significantly since the founding of the Province of South Australia in 1836. In the early years, the Governor alone determined matters of policy, made laws and was responsible to the United Kingdom Government for the management of the colony. Representative government (i.e. through the election of Parliamentary representatives) was achieved in South Australia in 1856.

In summary, the Governor's role is as the local ‘head of state' for South Australia, exercising constitutional, ceremonial and community duties.

 

Constitutional duties

With rare exceptions (see section below on the Reserve Powers), a Governor exercises executive power only on the advice of Ministers who are responsible to the Parliament. That advice is generally conveyed through the South Australian Executive Council (comprising the Premier and his Ministers).

The Governor presides over the Executive Council every Thursday morning (and more often if required). The Governor has a supervisory role 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; he is entitled to be consulted and to encourage and warn his Ministers.

In the Executive Council, the Governor gives formal and legal effect to acts of Parliament and to those decisions of Cabinet which require action by the Governor, such as senior appointments.

Examples of the Governor's constitutional powers include the power:

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

When exercising a statutory power (i.e. one that is specified in legislation, such as appointing members to a board), the Governor must act with the advice and consent of the Executive Council (s 23 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1915).

 

Reserve Powers

There are some limited circumstances in which the Governor is authorised, indeed required, to act notwithstanding the absence of such advice. These involve 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 and dismissal of the Premier, i.e:

  • the power to appoint a Premier if an election has resulted in a ‘hung parliament' (i.e. not a clear outcome);
  • the power to dismiss a Premier when he or she has lost the confidence of the Parliament;
  • the power to dismiss a Premier or Minister when he or she is acting unlawfully; and
  • the power to refuse to dissolve the house of Assembly despite a request from the Premier.

 

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). For information about the Australian Honours system click here.

Governors usually "take the salute" at important parades such as Anzac Day and Australia Day Parades; participate in commemorations such as Remembrance Day in November and many others; deliver addresses on significant occasions such as Proclamation Day in December; and officiate at the opening of major conferences or substantial new buildings and facilities.

 

Community role

The Governor meets citizens throughout the state and encourages and rewards their efforts to promote the well-being of the community. Country visits and industry visits contribute to the Governor's knowledge of the state and its people.

If you wish to invite the Governor and/or spouse to an event, please see the information here.

The Governor is patron of around 200 not-for-profit organizations; the Governor's spouse is also approached to be patron of many organisations. To invite the Governor or spouse to be patron, click here.

Government House is used by the Governor as a venue for receptions and other events which encourage and acknowledge the achievements of individuals and organisations. Thousands of people attend such functions each year.

The Governor sends congratulatory messages to South Australians who have achieved significant milestones in their lives such as 100th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversaries. For further information about these messages, click here.

 

The Lieutenant Governor

The Lieutenant Governor is appointed by the Governor for a term ‘during the Governor's pleasure'.

The role does not in itself carry any specific duties or powers, except that the appointee is the first person called upon to act as the Vice - Regal representative in the absence of the Governor.
Where the Governor will be absent (i.e. from Adelaide) for four weeks or less or is suffering from a temporary illness, the Lieutenant Governor is appointed by the Governor as the Governor's Deputy.

The Lieutenant Governor may also assume the administration of the State as Administrator and exercise the powers and functions of the Governor if the office of the Governor is vacant (eg in the period between Governors) or the Governor is on extended leave. The Lieutenant Governor can only act in place of the Governor on the written request of the Premier. If the Lieutenant Governor is not available to act as the Governors Deputy, the Chief Justice is the next in line to be appointed.

The Governor's Deputy or Administrator performs the powers and functions of the Governor specified in an instrument of appointment made by the Governor, during the period specified. This usually consists of all the powers and authorities of the Governor, except the power to appoint a deputy.