The Governor of NSW

The Governor has an important constitutional and ceremonial role in the state.

The Governor:
  • determines the dates of sessions of the Parliament
  • dissolves the Lower House for General Elections
  • calls the election
  • assents to bills passed by both houses of the Parliament
  • appoints the Ministers
  • presides over the Executive Council
  • proclaims the regulations necessary to make Acts of Parliament functional.

The Executive Council
The supreme executive authority in New South Wales is the Executive Council, consisting of the Ministers, presided over by the Governor. This is the formal, official arm of the Government, which gives legal authority to proclamations, regulations, appointments to the public service, judiciary, and other public positions such as officers of the Parliament, and commissions for officers of the police force. When these things are done by the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council, they are said to have been done by the Governor-in-Council.

The Governor’s Powers
The Governor of New South Wales derives powers from:
  • the Commission
  • specific provisions contained in Acts of Parliament
  • the Royal Prerogative by dint of the Australia Act 1986

The bulk of the powers which any Governor of New South Wales exercises each day come from powers given by Acts of Parliament. For example, an Act might say: "The Governor may ... make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, for and with respect to any matter which this Act is required or permitted to be prescribed ... etc". No governor exercises this power personally. What happens in practice is that the Minister who is responsible for the Act and its regulations advises the Governor on what regulations are necessary. This advice is contained in a minute to be adopted by the Executive Council and signed by the Governor.

The Ministers hold office at the pleasure of the Crown, i.e. the Governor, but the Governor is required to exercise power on the advice of the Premier and the Ministers. In very rare circumstances, however, Governors may exercise what are called reserve powers. These are discretionary powers only likely to be used in times of political crisis, for example, where a government is defeated on the floor of the House in the Parliament or when the government is a minority government after an election. Constitutional lawyers cannot agree on the nature and extent of the Governor’s reserve powers. The most notable occasion on which these powers were used was in 1932 when the Governor, Sir Philip Game, dismissed the Premier, Jack Lang, and called fresh elections. Game determined that Lang was acting illegally in matters concerning State finances and the Commonwealth.

The Australia Acts, passed in 1986 by all Australian and the United Kingdom Parliaments, severed the constitutional links that still remained between Australia and the United Kingdom. In 1987, as a consequence of the Australia Acts, the Parliament of New South Wales amended the New South Wales Constitution Act of 1902. The Governor remains the Queen’s representative and exercises her powers, but the appointment and dismissal of the Governor is on the advice of the Premier. All bills passed by the Parliament of New South Wales become Acts when assented to by the Governor in the name of and on behalf of the Queen. The Queen herself would not be asked to assent to a bill unless she is personally present in New South Wales.

The Role of the Governor in the Community
The Governor also has an important role in the community and is the patron of hundreds of community organisations. The Governor takes part in community activities of all kinds, widely supporting the work of these organisations. On important state ceremonial and public occasions, such as a Governor’s opening of Parliament, Anzac Day and state visits, the Governor presides over events.