STATE GOVERNOR


His Excellency,
The Hon. Peter UNDERWOOD AO

Peter UNDERWOOD was first appointed on 2 April 2008.

BACKGROUND

Following the settlement of the colony, Tasmania (or Van Diemen's Land as it was then called) initially had two Lieutenant-Governors, one in Hobart and one in Launceston, but from 1812 one Lieutenant-Governor administered the whole State. The first Governor was appointed in 1856 when Tasmania became a fully self-governing colony.

Tasmania, as a constituent member of the Australian Federation, is both a part of the Commonwealth of Australia and a self-governing State with its own separate identity and as such possesses all the constitutional elements of an independent and sovereign state, including its own head of state who is the Governor. The office of Governor is non-political and quite distinct from that of the head of government (the Premier).

APPOINTMENT

Before the Australia Act of 1986 the Queen of Australia appointed the State Governors upon the advice of the United Kingdom Government. Since then it is the State Premier who effectively appoints or can seek the removal of a State Governor. Moreover, an important clause of the Act makes it clear that to a large extent the State Governor acts upon the advice of the Premier:

'7(5) The advice to Her Majesty in relation to the exercise of the powers and functions of Her Majesty in respect of a State shall be tendered by the Premier of the State.'

The Premier is thus the Governor's principal adviser regarding the functions and administration of government. Nonetheless, Westminster convention has it that the Governor has the right to 'be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn'.

Under the Constitution Act 1934 and by virtue of instructions and mendments
to the Letters Patent, the Governor's term is 5 years, with a Dormant Commission at present for the Chief Just ice to act as Governor in emergencies or during the absence of the Governor from the State.

ROLES

The final stage in the passage of any legislation is the Royal Assent - the Governor's signature on behalf of the Crown which formalises a new Act. This process is actually embedded in the preamble to every Act, which states:

'Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governor of Tasmania, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and House of Assembly, in Parliament assembled, as follows:'.

So whilst not a formal part of the actual law-making process of Parliament, the Governor is still the final stage in the passage of legislation.

The Governor also has various other constitutional functions. They include appointing the Premier; on the Premier's advice appointing Ministers; determining the machinery of elections; opening Parliament, and giving legal effect to government decisions through the Executive Council, which consists of the Premier and the Ministers of the Government of the day.

The Governor has considerable powers but in accordance with our system of parliamentary democracy those powers are in the main exercised on the advice of the Premier or the Executive Council. But the Governor's constitutional role is not purely formal. There are situations when Governors are obliged to act on their own initiative or exercise their own discretion. Governors also have a responsibility to ask questions of the Government of the day or require further information if it appears that there may be some doubt about the legality or procedural regularity of any action which the Governor is being asked to take. That does not mean that Governors question government policy, but they are obliged to scrutinise and raise questions about matters brought before them as part of their wider responsibility to see that the processes of government are conducted lawfully and regularly.

In essence, the Governor's function is to protect the Constitution, secure the orderly transition of governments and facilitate the work of Parliament and the Government. In performing those functions the Governor acts both on behalf of the Government and on behalf of the whole of the State and its people.

Apart from constitutional functions, the Governor acts on behalf of Tasmania in many other ways. Each year the Governor welcomes heads of state, ambassadors and other official visitors and thousands of other interstate and international visitors to Tasmania, particularly those who come here to attend conferences and conventions. These visitors are also received and looked after by representatives of the Government and the community, but it is the Governor's function to welcome them on behalf of Tasmania as a whole.

The Governor also invests those upon whom honours have been conferred, participates in public occasions and is involved in the activities of the many organisations, regions and other sections of our community which comprise our State. In performing these functions the Governor on behalf of Tasmania as a whole recognises achievement, encourages worthwhile endeavours, honours our history, reinforces our cultural identity and reaffirms the essential values of our society.

GOVERNMENT HOUSE

The first substantial Government House was built in 1817 in Macquarie Street on an area now occupied by Franklin Square, Elizabeth Street and the Town Hall. However this building proved to be inadequate and Governor Arthur decided that it needed to be replaced by a house on the present site at Pavilion Point. After several delays construction of the present Government House began in 1855, was completed in 1857 and on 2 January 1858 Sir Henry Fox Young became the first Governor to take up residence. Apart from the conservatory, which was rebuilt in 1991, Government House remains as it was when it was first occupied.

Tasmania's Government House is today regarded as one of the best vice-regal residences in the Commonwealth. Designed by colonial architect William Porden Kay, it is a fine example of an early Victorian country house in neo-Gothic style and is one of the largest of its type in Australia.

Government House today has various functions: it is a ceremonial building for state occasions such as investitures, award ceremonies and the commissioning of Judges and Ministers; a venue for official luncheons, dinners and receptions; a place where hospitality can be extended to heads of state, ambassadors and other official visitors; the main centre for the performance of the Governor's constitutional functions; the administrative centre of the Office of Governor; and the private residence of the Governor and his or her family. In recent years it has been open to the public once a year during the summer, an occasion that has become very popular with visitors.

List of Governors

July 2005

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Last Update: 12 April 2008