The role of the governor-general
The Governor-General represents the Australian head of state, Queen Elizabeth II. Between them they have important formal powers. Some of these powers include the power to: h approve legislation passed by the two Houses of Parliament; h command the navel and military forces;
h Exercise the general 'executive' power of the Commonwealth.
Many of these powers reflect an earlier, more active role taken by the monarch. In almost all cases today, however, these powers are carried out on the advice of the government of the day. In some instances, the head of state can exercise powers without, or against this advice.
¡§All countries have a head of state. This person represents the country as a whole, especially when visiting overseas countries. In some countries, the same person is both head of state and leader of the government. In others, including Australia, there is a separate head of state. Many federal countries, again including Australia, also provide a head of state at the second level.¡¨ (Australian politics, 1997) the Governor-General is given power specifically in a number of other sections of the Constitution. The most important of these are: h to adjourn and dissolve the House of Representatives
h to issue writs for general elections (the formal process by which elections are called) h to dissolve both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament
h to appoint Ministers, including the Prime Minister
h to appoint judges
h to submit Constitution Alteration Bills to referendum
Almost all the powers of the Governor-General are exercised only on the advice of government. This is done through a committee called the Federal Executive Council, usually just referred to as the Executive Council. Nowadays, the Executive Council is largely a formality, attended by only two or three Ministers or more junior parliamentary secretaries, where advice is formally given to the Governor-General. By convention, major decisions about the advice to be given to the Governor-General are made by Ministers individually or as a group, in Cabinet. (CCF, Rolehead, 1999)
The head of state may play a number of roles. These include ensuring the smooth running of parliamentary government by, for example, appointing a new government after an election; participation in ceremonial and social occasions and representation of a country internationally, promoting its diplomatic, cultural or economic interests. For practical reasons, the Commonwealth and State constitutions provided from the beginning for the Queen to be represented in Australia by other people. At the Commonwealth level of government, her representative is the Governor-General. At the State level, she is represented by the State Governors. (CCF, repstate, 1999)
The Australian head of state debate
¡§The greatest potential weakness of any democratic constitution is that it may permit a Government which has secured a bare majority of votes -- or a majority of seats with even a minority of votes -- to act as a tyranny and to bring about fundamental changes which may be destructive of democracy itself. Our Constitution contains checks and balances, which render such a situation unlikely if not impossible. The existence of the States, the power of the Senate and the fact that the Governor-General represents, and may be removed by, the Queen all contribute to place restrictions on the unbridled exercise of political power. Some politicians, who feel frustration that they cannot more easily get their own way, would remove, if they could, some or all of these restraints on power. We should view with suspicion any attempt to weaken the checks and balances in the Constitution, which has served us so well. There have been many questions over the years about the position of Head of State in Australia. These have concerned the way Governors-General are appointed, their relations with the monarch and the powers of the Head of State in...
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