The Governor-General is a symbol of Papua New Guinea’s unity and leadership, with the holder of the Office fulfilling important constitutional, ceremonial, international, and community roles.
The Governor-General has three overlapping roles - constitutional, ceremonial and community-related.
- include receiving the writ that dissolves Parliament before a general election is held; formally requesting the leader of the political party which gains the support of a majority in Parliament to form a government; and assenting to the enactment of legislation.
- include opening new sessions of Parliament; presenting honours at Investitures; welcoming visiting Heads of State; receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats; and attending ANZAC Day commemorations.
- The Governor-General also provides non-partisan leadership in the community, acting as patron of many charitable, service, sporting and cultural organisations, and attending functions throughout the country.
The office of Governor-General was established by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Papua New Guinea in 1975.The Governor-General is appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to serve as the representative of the Head of State, Elizabeth II, Queen of Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea’s Head of State is non-partisan and is not involved in the "business" of government, which is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. This arrangement is best described by the saying that "while the Sovereign reigns, the Government rules. “Papua New Guinea is a constitutional democracy and neither the Governor-General nor the Queen takes an active or initiating role in the executive functions of Government.
The Governor-General’s powers and roles are derive from the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea Part V Section 1, 2 & 3 and set out certain provisions relating to the Governor-General.
In several sections of the Constitution the Governor-General’s powers and role are expressed. Section 2 provides that;
Her Majesty the Queen—having been requested by the people of Papua New Guinea, through their Constituent Assembly, to become the Queen and Head of State of Papua New Guinea; and having graciously consented so to become, is the Queen and Head of State of Papua New Guinea. Subject to and in accordance with this Constitution, the privileges, powers, functions, duties and responsibilities of the Head of State may be had, exercised and performed through a Governor-General appointed in accordance with Division 3 (appointment, etc., of Governor-General) and, except where the contrary intention appears, reference in any law to the Head of State shall be read accordingly.
Additionally and importantly, the Constitution provides that;
The privileges, powers, functions, duties and responsibilities of the Head of State are as prescribed by or under Constitutional Laws and Acts of the Parliament. Except as provided by Section 96(2) (terms and conditions of employment), in the exercise and performance of his privileges, powers, functions, duties and responsibilities the Head of State shall act only with, and in accordance with, the advice of the National Executive Council, or of some other body or authority prescribed by a Constitutional Law or an Act of the Parliament for a particular purpose as the body or authority in accordance with whose advice the Head of State is obliged, in a particular case, to act. Any instrument made by or in the name of the Head of State shall recite that it is made with, and in accordance with, the advice of the National Executive Council or of any other body or authority in accordance with whose advice the Head of State is obliged, in the particular case, to act, but failure to comply with this subsection does not affect the validity of an instrument. The question, what (if any) advice was given to the Head of State, or by whom, is non-justifiable.
The Governor-General may, in certain circumstances, exercise without – or contrary to – ministerial advice. These are known as the reserve powers. While the reserve powers are not codified as such, they are generally agreed to at least include:
- The power to appoint a Prime Minister if an election has resulted in a ‘hung parliament’;
- The power to dismiss a Prime Minister where he or she has lost the confidence of the Parliament;
- The power to dismiss a Prime Minister or Minister when he or she is acting unlawfully; and
- The power to refuse to dissolve the House of Representatives despite a request from the Prime Minister.
In essence then, the Governor-General’s role is to protect the Constitution and to facilitate the work of the Commonwealth Parliament and Government. For example, before giving assent to legislation, the Governor-General must be satisfied that the proposed law has passed both Houses of Parliament and that the necessary certification from the Attorney General has been obtained.
In summary, the Governor-General has many important constitutional, ceremonial and community duties to perform. For example, the Governor-General:
- dissolves the Parliament and issues writs for new elections;
- commissions the Prime Minister and appoints other Ministers after elections;
- gives assent to laws when they have been passed by the three arms of Government – Legislative, Judiciary and Executive;
- acts on the advice of Ministers through the National Executive Council to issue regulations;
- proclamations under existing laws; to appoint State Judges; to appoint Ambassadors and High Commissioners to overseas countries, to appoint other senior Government officials; to issue Royal Commissions of Inquiry; and other matters, as required by particular legislation; and
- Authorises many other executive decisions by Ministers such as approving treaties with foreign governments.
The day-to-day administration and operation of the services are under the command of the Chief of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and his officers. As Commander-in-Chief, the Governor-General has an important ceremonial role to play. He or she attends military parades and special occasions such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, and presents Colours and other insignia to units of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and Police Force.
There are many other duties performed by the Governor-General. For example, he:
- receives and entertains visiting Heads of State, Heads of Government and other prominent visitors to Papua New Guinea;
- opens new sessions of the National Parliament;
- receives the credentials of Ambassadors and some High Commissioners appointed to represent their countries in Papua New Guinea;
- conducts Investitures at which people receive Awards under the Papua New Guinea Honours system for notable service to the community, or for acts of bravery; and
- meets many Papua New Guinea citizens and representatives or organisations acting in the life of the community.
The Governor-General is Patron of a great many organisations and takes a keen interest in their activities.
Possibly the most visible role of the Governor-General, as the office has evolved over the years, is to encourage, articulate and represent those things that unite Papua New Guinea as a nation. In this capacity, the Governor-General and his or her spouse:
- travel widely throughout Papua New Guinea visiting the capital cities, regional centres, rural districts, indigenous communities and disadvantaged groups;
- accept patronage of many national, charitable, cultural, educational, sporting and professional organisations;
- open and participate in conferences where topics of national importance are discussed – such as educational, health, cultural, welfare, defence, economic and rural issues;
- attend services, functions, commemorations and exhibitions of local significance, lending their encouragement to individuals and groups who are making a substantial contribution to their communities and to the nation;
- issue congratulatory messages to Papua New Guineans who achieve significant milestones in their lives such as 100th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversaries; and
- receives the credentials of foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners to accredit them to represent their countries in Papua New Guinea.