March 31

Serendipity: the Governor-General

Have you ever launched into the internet searching for a specific item or article only to find an hour or so later you are looking at an item that is totally irrelevant to what you first set out to acquire? Well, I did exactly this the other day and came up with something very interesting indeed!


I was searching for some information about the Imperial Conferences. As an aside, Wikipedia assures us that the Imperial Conferences (Colonial Conferences before 1911) were periodic gatherings of government leaders from the self-governing colonies and dominions of the British Empire between 1887 and 1937.

They were held in the following years:

1887189418971902190719111921192319261930 and 1937

This was before the establishment of regular Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1944.

My efforts were drawn to an item in an online bookseller located in New South Wales just near Canberra. One of the items in the online store had the rather lengthy title of Report of Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation and Merchant Shipping Legislation, 1929.

…the Governor-General….

 I was so interested in the title that I purchased the article for about $15.00 online immediately and received it in the mail about two days later. There's something eerie about flicking through the yellowed, musty pages of a document that sprung into life well before one was born.

It wasn't long before I sighted a paragraph that I thought was most illuminating and so I shall share my luck with you.

By the way, the title indicates quite clearly what the contents are about; this report was of a conference that happened between the 1926 and 1930 Imperial Conferences and was, I presume, held to sort out various issues before the 1930 Imperial Conference itself. Quite early in the document and in paragraph 9 it includes the following details*:

"the Governor-General is the representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in the United Kingdom"

 Even back in 1929, the position and power of a Governor-General was well-defined! It is quite clear from that statement that the Governor-General operated with the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in a Dominion (now Realm) as a King (or Queen) would do in the United Kingdom. So if the King held the position of "Head of State" in the United Kingdom, it would then follow that the Governor-General would hold the position of "Head of State" in a Dominion (now Realm).

…Australian Head of State…

 My personal and long held view is that the ongoing Seinfeldish notion (a show about nothing) that we must have an Australian Head of State is just that – a show about nothing! I say that because nowhere, in any of Australia's constitutional documents, does the phrase "Head of State" appear. 

That said, I believe that the above-mentioned statement formally concludes that the Governor-General, as the representative of the crown, also acts as Australia's "Head of State" and has done so formally since the 1920s.

Another point of interest is that the Royal Standard flew above the Federation Pavilion on 1 January 1901 indicating the presence of the Governor-General operating as the Queen's representative as outlined in our marvellous Commonwealth constitution. 

[Nick Hobson DFC AFC is a retired Wing Commander in the RAAF having seen service in Vietnam and Egypt. He served as ADC to the Governor of Victoria and has long been active in the defence of the Australian Crown as the first Company Secretary of ACM, setting up its IT system  and then in applying the latest technology to educate Australians, young and old, about our constitutional system. This includes the excellent website]

*[ This repeat words used in the Balfour Declaration approved at the 1926 Conference; see Sir David Smith, Head of State, pages 20,21 which confirms the intention the Governor-General be Head of State] 







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