Governor of New South Wales

The governor of New South Wales is the representative of the monarch, King Charles III, in the state of New South Wales. In an analogous way to the governor-general of Australia at the national level, the governors of the Australian states perform constitutional and ceremonial functions at the state level. The governor is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the premier of New South Wales,[1] and serves in office for an unfixed period of time—known as serving At His Majesty's pleasure—though five years is the general standard of office term. The current governor is retired judge Margaret Beazley, who succeeded David Hurley on 2 May 2019.

Governor of New South Wales
Standard of the Governor
Margaret Beazley
since 2 May 2019
StyleHer Excellency the Honourable
ResidenceGovernment House, Sydney
on the advice of the premier
Term lengthAt His Majesty's pleasure
(usually 5 years by convention)
Formation7 February 1788
First holderArthur Phillip
DeputyLieutenant-Governor of New South Wales

The office has its origin in the 18th-century colonial governors of New South Wales upon its settlement in 1788, and is the oldest continuous institution in Australia. The present incarnation of the position emerged with the Federation of Australia and the New South Wales Constitution Act 1902, which defined the viceregal office as the governor acting by and with the advice of the Executive Council of New South Wales.[2] However, the post still ultimately represented the government of the United Kingdom until, after continually decreasing involvement by the British government, the passage in 1942 of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 (see Statute of Westminster) and the Australia Act 1986, after which the governor became the direct, personal representative of the sovereign.


Sir John Northcott, the first Australian-born governor (1946–57).

The office of governor is prescribed by the New South Wales Constitution. The monarch, on the advice and recommendation of the premier of New South Wales, appoints the governor with a commission issued under the royal sign-manual and Public Seal of the State, who is from then until being sworn in by the premier and chief justice referred to as the governor-designate.

Besides the administration of the oaths of office, there is no set formula for the swearing-in of a governor-designate. The constitution act stipulates: "Before assuming office, a person appointed to be Governor shall take the Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance and the Oath or Affirmation of Office in the presence of the Chief Justice or another Judge of the Supreme Court."[2] The sovereign will also hold an audience with the appointee and will at that time induct the governor-designate as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

The incumbent will generally serve for at least five years, though this is only a developed convention, and the governor still technically acts at His Majesty's pleasure (or the Royal Pleasure). The premier may therefore recommend to the King that the viceroy remain in his service for a longer period of time, sometimes upwards of more than seven years. A governor may also resign[note 1] and three have died in office.[note 2] In such a circumstance, or if the governor leaves the country for longer than one month, the lieutenant governor of New South Wales, concurrently held by the chief justice of New South Wales since 1872, serves as Administrator of the Government and exercises all powers of the governor.[note 3] Furthermore, if the lieutenant governor becomes incapacitated while serving in the office of governor or is also absent from the state, the next most senior judge of the Supreme Court is sworn in as the administrator.[note 4]



Between 1788 and 1957, all governors were born outside New South Wales and were often members of the peerage. Historian A. J. P. Taylor once noted that "going out and governing New South Wales became the British aristocracy's 'abiding consolation'".[3] However, the position eventually became filled by Australians, with the first Australian-born governor, Sir John Northcott on 1 August 1946, being the first Australian-born governor of any state. However, as Northcott was born in Victoria, it was not until Sir Eric Woodward's appointment by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 that the position was filled by a New South Welshman. This practice continued until 1996, when Queen Elizabeth II commissioned as her representative Gordon Samuels, a London-born immigrant to Australia.

Early governors were frequently former politicians, many being members of the House of Lords by virtue of their peerage; however they were required by the tenets of constitutional monarchy to be non-partisan while in office. The first governors were all military officers and the majority of governors since have come from a military background, numbering 19.[when?] Samuels was the first governor in New South Wales history without a political or common public service background—a former justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. The first woman to hold this position is also the first Lebanese-Australian governor, Dame Marie Bashir.



As the sovereign lives outside New South Wales, the governor's primary task is to perform the sovereign's constitutional duties on their behalf.

Lord Wakehurst takes the oath of office upon his arrival in Sydney in 1937.

The governor is enpowered by the Constitution Act 1902 to appoint the ministers of the Government of New South Wales. Convention dictates that the governor must select as premier an individual from Legislative Assembly that has the confidence of that body. The premier then advises the governor on who to appoint as ministers. The executive branch of government exercises power formally through the governor-in-council, the governor acting with the advice of the Executive Council of New South Wales.[4] This council is made up of cabinet ministers and gives legal effect to decisions already reached in cabinet. While the governor must almost always act only on the advice of ministers, in exceptional circumstances they may act in the absence or contrary to advice—this is known as the reserve powers. The circumstances when these powers may be exercised is disputed, however in 1932 the governor justified the use of these powers to revoke the commission of premier Jack Lang during the 1932 New South Wales constitutional crisis on the grounds of alleged illegal activity by the premier.

The governor alone is constitutionally mandated to summon parliament and may also prorogue and dissolve it on the advice of the premier. The governor grants royal assent in the King's name to bills as the final step required to give them the force of law. While in the past governors had the discretion to refuse or reserve assent to bills, usually where they were seen as unfavourable to imperial interests, now the only likely grounds on which a bill could be refused if it was passed contrary to manner and form requirements (for example the requirement to hold a referendum to approve of any law that abolished or changed the powers of either of the houses of parliament).[5] A governor's view that a bill is likely unconstitutional is not a ground for the reservation of royal assent as the legality of a bill is determined by the courts.[5] With most constitutional functions delegated to Cabinet, the governor acts in a primarily ceremonial fashion. The governor hosts members of Australia's royal family, as well as foreign royalty and heads of state. Also as part of international relations, the governor receives letters of credence and of recall from foreign consuls-general appointed to Sydney. When they are the longest-serving state governor, the governor of New South Wales holds a dormant commission to act as the administrator of the Commonwealth when the governor-general of Australia is absent from Australia, a role most recently held by Governor Bashir.[6]

The governor is also tasked with fostering unity and pride. The governor inducts individuals into the various national orders and present national medals and decorations, however the most senior awards such as ACs or the Victoria Cross are the sole prerogative of the governor general. The governor also ex-officio serves as Honorary Colonel of the Royal New South Wales Regiment (since 1960), Honorary Air Commodore of No. 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (since 1937) and Honorary Commodore of the Royal Australian Navy, as well as the Chief Scout for New South Wales.[7]

Symbols and protocol


The governor is listed second in New South Wales' table of precedence, behind the governor-general.[8] The incumbent governor is entitled to use the style of His or Her Excellency, while in office. On 28 November 2013 the premier of NSW announced that the Queen had given approval for the title of "The Honourable" to be accorded to the governors and former governors of New South Wales.[9] Upon installation, the governor serves as a Deputy Prior of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in Australia and is also traditionally invested as either a Knight or Dame of Justice or Grace of the Order.[citation needed] It is also customary that the governor is made a Companion of the Order of Australia, though this is not necessarily automatic. The use by the governor of an elaborate uniform, comprising a plain blue tailcoat, scarlet collar and cuffs (embroidered in silver), silver epaulettes, and a plumed bicorne hat, fell out of use with the appointment of the first Australian-born Governor, Sir John Northcott, in 1946.

The musical vice regal salute—composed of the first and last four bars of the national anthem ("Advance Australia Fair")—is played on the arrival and departure of the general from a formal event in which a military or service guard is present. It is optional to play if no guard it at the event.[10]

To mark the viceroy's presence at any building, ship, aeroplane, or car in Australia, the governor's standard or flag is employed. Following the example of other states adopting unique Governor's standards, in 1980 the Government of New South Wales sought to introduce a new standard for the governor to replace the Union Flag that had been in use since 1788.[11] Premier Neville Wran wrote to the Governor, Sir Roden Cutler, on 25 November 1980 advising: "His Excellency’s Ministers of State now consider that there should be a change in the Personal Standard of the Governor of New South Wales, such change to take effect at the conclusion of His Excellency’s term of office. The Premier therefore recommends for approval a change in the Governor’s distinctive flag from the Union Flag to the New South Wales State Flag with a Crown surmounting the State badge in the fly." However, Cutler did not agree with this change, and it was recommended that the change be undertaken after he had left office.[11] The new Governor's Standard was designed and presented by the Garter King of Arms to the Agent-General for New South Wales in London on 8 January 1981, who then sought Royal assent of the new design, which was given on 15 January 1981.[11] The flag was first flown on 20 January 1981 over Parliament House for the official swearing-in of Governor Sir James Rowland, and was flown for the first time over Government House on 29 January 1981.[12][13]

Past and present standards of the governor


The First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage's end in 1788. Its arrival marked the establishment of the colony of New South Wales and the office of the governor.

Aside from the Crown itself, the office of Governor of New South Wales is the oldest constitutional office in Australia. Captain Arthur Phillip assumed office as Governor of New South Wales on 7 February 1788, when the Colony of New South Wales, the first British settlement in Australia, was formally proclaimed. The early colonial governors held an almost autocratic power due to the distance from and poor communications with Great Britain, until 1824 when the New South Wales Legislative Council, Australia's first legislative body, was appointed to advise the governor.[14]

Between 1850 and 1861, the Governor of New South Wales was titled Governor-General, in an early attempt at federalism imposed by Earl Grey. All communication between the Australian colonies and the British Government was meant to go through the Governor-General, and the other colonies had lieutenant-Governors. As South Australia (1836), Tasmania (January 1855) and Victoria (May 1855) obtained responsible government, their lieutenant-Governors were replaced by Governors. Although he had ceased acting as a Governor-General, Sir William Denison retained the title until his retirement in 1861.[15]

The six British colonies in Australia joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. New South Wales and the other colonies became states in the federal system under the Constitution of Australia. In 1902, the New South Wales Constitution Act 1902 confirmed the modern system of government of New South Wales as a state. Like the new federal Governor-General and the other state governors, in the first years after federation, the governor of New South Wales continued to act both in their constitutional role, and as a liaison between the local government and the imperial government in London.

The copy of the Australia Act 1986 (UK) bearing the Queen's signature, now displayed in Canberra

In 1942, the Commonwealth of Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, which rendered Australia dominion status under the Statute of Westminster, and while Australia and Britain share the same person as monarch, that person acts in a distinct capacity when acting as the monarch of each dominion. The convention that the monarch acts in respect of Australian affairs on the advice of his or her Australian ministers, rather than his or her British ministers, became enshrined in law.[citation needed] For New South Wales however, because the Statute of Westminster did not disturb the constitutional arrangements of the Australian states, the governor remained (at least formally) in New South Wales the representative of the British monarch. This arrangement seemed incongruous with the Commonwealth of Australia's independent dominion status conferred by the Statute of Westminster, and with the federal structure.

After much negotiation between the federal and state governments of Australia, the British government and Buckingham Palace, the Australia Act 1986 removed any remaining constitutional roles of the British monarch and British government in the Australian states, and established that the governor of New South Wales (along with the other state governors) was the direct, personal representative of the Australian monarch, and not the British monarch or the British government, nor the governor-general of Australia or the Australian federal government.

Residences and household


Government House

Government House, Sydney, the official residence of the governor

On his arrival in Sydney in 1788, Governor Phillip resided in a temporary wood and canvas house before the construction of a more substantial house on a site now bounded by Bridge Street and Phillip Street, Sydney. This first Government House was extended and repaired by the following eight governors, but was generally in poor condition and was vacated when the governor relocated to the new building in 1845, designed by Edward Blore and Mortimer Lewis.

With the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, it was announced that Government House was to serve as the secondary residence of the new governor-general of Australia. As a consequence the NSW Government leased the residence of Cranbrook, Bellevue Hill as the residence of the governor. This arrangement lasted until 1913 when the NSW Government terminated the Commonwealth lease of Government House (the governor-general moved to the new Sydney residence of Admiralty House), the governor from 1913 to 1917, Sir Gerald Strickland, continued to live in Cranbrook and on his departure his successor returned to Government House.

On 16 January 1996, Premier Bob Carr announced that the next governor would be Gordon Samuels, that he would not live or work at Government House and that he would retain his appointment as chairman of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission. On these changes, Carr said: "The Office of the Governor should be less associated with pomp and ceremony, less encumbered by anachronistic protocol, more in tune with the character of the people."[16] The state's longest-serving governor, Sir Roden Cutler, was also reported as saying: "It's a political push to make way in New South Wales to lead the push for a republic. If they decide not to have a Governor and the public agrees with that, and Parliament agrees, and the queen agrees to it, that is a different matter, but while there is a Governor you have got to give him some respectability and credibility, because he is the host for the whole of New South Wales. For the life of me I cannot understand the logic of having a Governor who is part-time and doesn't live at Government House. It is such a degrading of the office and of the Governor."[17][18]

In October 2011, the new premier, Barry O'Farrell, announced that the governor, now Dame Marie Bashir, had agreed with O'Farrell's offer to move back into Government House: "A lot of people believe the Governor should live at Government House. That's what it was built for ... [A]t some stage a rural or regional governor will be appointed and we will need to provide accommodation at Government House so it makes sense to provide appropriate living areas".[19] With the Governor's return, management of the residence reverted to the Office of the Governor in December 2013.

Summer residence

"Old" Government House, Parramatta.

In addition to the primary Sydney vice-regal residence, many governors had also felt the need for a 'summer retreat' to escape the hard temperatures of the Sydney summers. In 1790, Governor Phillip had a secondary residence built in the township of Parramatta. In 1799 the second governor, John Hunter, had the remains of Arthur Phillip's cottage cleared away, and a more permanent building erected on the same site. This residence remained occupied until the completion of the primary Government House in 1845, however the hard summers and growing size of Sydney convinced successive governors of the need for a rural residence.

The governor from 1868 to 1872, the Earl Belmore, used Throsby Park in Moss Vale as his summer residence. His successor, Sir Hercules Robinson, often retired privately to the same area, in the Southern Highlands, for the same reason. In 1879 it was then decided that the colony should purchase a house at Sutton Forest for use as a permanent summer residence, and in 1881 the NSW Government purchased for £6000 a property known as "Prospect" that had been built by Robert Pemberton Richardson (of the firm Richardson & Wrench). This was renamed "Hillview", and became the primary summer governor's residence from 1885 to 1957. In 1957, seen as unnecessary and expensive, Hillview was put up for sale and purchased from the state government by Edwin Klein. Hillview was returned to the people of NSW in 1985 and is currently leased under the ownership of the Environment and Heritage Group of the Department of Planning & Environment.[20]



The viceregal household aids the governor in the execution of the royal constitutional and ceremonial duties and is managed by the Office of the Governor, whose current official secretary and chief of staff is Michael Miller RFD.[21] These organised offices and support systems include aides-de-camp, press officers, financial managers, speech writers, trip organisers, event planners and protocol officers, chefs and other kitchen employees, waiters, and various cleaning staff, as well as tour guides. In this official and bureaucratic capacity, the entire household is often referred to as Government House. These departments are funded through the annual budget, as is the governor's salary of $529,000.[22]

List of governors of New South Wales


The following individuals have served as a governor of New South Wales:[23]

No. Portrait Governor Term start Term end Time in office
Governors appointed by George III (1760–1820):
1   Captain Arthur Phillip RN 7 February 1788 10 December 1792 4 years, 307 days
2   Captain John Hunter RN 11 September 1795 27 September 1800 5 years, 16 days
3   Captain Philip Gidley King RN 28 September 1800 12 August 1806 5 years, 318 days
4   Captain William Bligh FRS, RN 13 August 1806 26 January 1808 1 year, 166 days
5   Major-General Lachlan Macquarie CB 1 January 1810 1 December 1821 11 years, 334 days
Governors appointed by George IV (1820–1830):
6   Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane Bt, GCH, GCB 1 December 1821 1 December 1825 4 years, 0 days
7   Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Darling GCH 19 December 1825 21 October 1831 5 years, 306 days
Governors appointed by William IV (1830–1837):
8   Major-General Sir Richard Bourke KCB 3 December 1831 5 December 1837 6 years, 2 days
Governors appointed by Queen Victoria (1837–1901):
9   Major Sir George Gipps 24 February 1838 11 July 1846 8 years, 137 days
10   Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy KCH, KCB 3 August 1846 28 January 1855 8 years, 178 days
11   Sir William Denison KCB 20 January 1855 22 January 1861 6 years, 2 days
12   The Rt Hon. Sir John Young Bt, GCMG, KCB 16 May 1861 24 December 1867 6 years, 222 days
13   The Rt Hon. The Earl Belmore GCMG, PC 8 January 1868 21 February 1872 4 years, 44 days
14   The Rt Hon. Sir Hercules Robinson GCMG 3 June 1872 19 March 1879 6 years, 289 days
15   The Rt Hon. Lord Augustus Loftus GCB 4 August 1879 9 November 1885 6 years, 97 days
16   The Rt Hon. The Lord Carrington GCMG, PC 12 December 1885 3 November 1890 4 years, 326 days
17   The Rt Hon. The Earl of Jersey GCB, GCMG, PC 15 January 1891 2 March 1893 2 years, 46 days
18   The Rt Hon. Sir Robert Duff GCMG 29 May 1893 15 March 1895 2 years, 291 days
19   The Rt Hon. The Viscount Hampden GCMG 21 November 1895 5 March 1899 3 years, 104 days
20   The Rt Hon. The Earl Beauchamp KCMG, PC 18 May 1899 30 April 1901 1 year, 347 days
Governors appointed by Edward VII (1901–1910):
21   Admiral Sir Harry Rawson GCB, GCMG, RN 27 May 1902 27 May 1909 7 years, 0 days
22   The Rt Hon. The Lord Chelmsford GCMG 28 May 1909 11 March 1913 3 years, 287 days
Governors appointed by George V (1910–1936):
23   The Hon. Sir Gerald Strickland GCMG 14 March 1913 27 October 1917 4 years, 227 days
24   Sir Walter Davidson KCMG 18 February 1918 4 September 1923[note 2] 5 years, 198 days
25   Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair KCB, MVO 28 February 1924 7 April 1930 6 years, 38 days
26   Air Vice Marshal Sir Philip Game GBE, KCB, DSO 29 May 1930 15 January 1935 4 years, 231 days
27   The Rt. Hon. The Lord Gowrie VC, GCMG, CB, DSO 21 February 1935 22 January 1936 335 days
Governors appointed by Edward VIII (1936):
28   Admiral Sir Murray Anderson KCB, KCMG, MVO 6 August 1936 30 October 1936[note 2][note 3] 85 days
Governors appointed by George VI (1936–1952):
29   The Rt. Hon. The Lord Wakehurst KCMG 8 April 1937 8 January 1946 8 years, 275 days
30   Lieutenant General Sir John Northcott KCMG, KCVO, CB 1 August 1946 31 July 1957 10 years, 364 days
Governors appointed by Queen Elizabeth II (1952–2022):
31   Lieutenant General Sir Eric Woodward KCMG, KCVO, CB, CBE, DSO 1 August 1957 31 July 1965 7 years, 364 days
32   Sir Roden Cutler VC, KCMG, KCVO, CBE 20 January 1966 19 January 1981 14 years, 365 days
33   Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC 20 January 1981 20 January 1989 8 years, 0 days
34   Rear Admiral Sir David Martin KCMG, AO, RAN 20 January 1989 7 August 1990[note 1] 1 year, 199 days
35 Rear Admiral The Hon. Peter Sinclair AC 8 August 1990 29 February 1996 5 years, 205 days
36   The Hon. Gordon Samuels AC, CVO, QC 1 March 1996 28 February 2001 4 years, 364 days
37   Professor The Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD, CVO 1 March 2001 1 October 2014 13 years, 214 days
38   General The Hon. David Hurley AC, DSC (Retd) 2 October 2014 1 May 2019 4 years, 211 days
39   The Hon. Margaret Beazley AC, KC 2 May 2019 Incumbent 5 years, 76 days

See also



  1. ^ a b Sir David Martin resigned the viceregal post on 7 August 1990 due to health concerns. He died three days later.
  2. ^ a b c The following governors died in office: Sir Robert Duff on 15 March 1895; Sir Walter Davidson on 15 September 1923; and Sir David Anderson on 30 October 1936.
  3. ^ a b When Sir David Anderson died in office on 30 October 1936, the lieutenant governor, Sir Philip Street, served as Administrator until Lord Wakehurst was sworn in on 8 April 1937.
  4. ^ Sir Leslie Herron, the lieutenant governor, died suddenly in May 1973 while the governor, Sir Roden Cutler, was overseas. Sir John Kerr became the administrator until Cutler was able to return.


  1. ^ The Royal Household. "The Queen and the Commonwealth > Queen and Australia > The Queen's role in Australia". Queen's Printer. Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  2. ^ a b Constitution Act, 1902, Sydney: Queen's Printer, retrieved 19 August 2010
  3. ^ Taylor, A. J. P. (1965). "English History, 1914–1945". In Cannadine, David (ed.). Aspects of Aristocracy. Yale University Press (published 1994). pp. 172–3.
  4. ^ "The Governor of NSW". Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  5. ^ a b Twomey, Anne (2004). The constitution of New South Wales. Sydney: Federation Press. pp. 216–22. ISBN 978-1-86287-516-6.
  6. ^ "Commonwealth of Australia Gazette S205 dated 17 June 2003" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 January 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  7. ^ "Patronage Listing". Governor of New South Wales. Office of the Governor. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  8. ^ Department, Premier's (1 June 2023). "Table of Precedence for NSW". NSW Government. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  9. ^ "The title 'The Honourable' for Governors of New South Wales" (PDF). New South Wales Government Gazette. 6 December 2013. p. 5716. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  10. ^ "Salutes and Anthems". Governor of New South Wales. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  11. ^ a b c "Not Your Usual Standard". Governor of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  12. ^ "Three cheers for retiring Governor". The Canberra Times. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 20 January 1981. p. 3. Retrieved 11 September 2023 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "New flag for a new Governor". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 January 1981. p. 10. Government House, Sydney, has set a new standard. Sir James Rowland has broken with the tradition of a Union Jack, used by Governors since Phillip, and adopted a new flag. The caretaker, Mr Ron MacKillop, raised the new flag for the first time yesterday.
  14. ^ NSW Parliament. History of the Legislative Council Archived 9 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 10 August 2007.
  15. ^ Twomey, Anne (2006). The chameleon Crown: The Queen and her Australian governors. Sydney: The Federation Press. ISBN 978-1-86287-629-3. Archived from the original on 20 March 2021. Retrieved 10 August 2007.
  16. ^ The Queen's Other Realms: The Crown and Its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Peter John Boyce, Federation Press, 2008, page 165
  17. ^ Government House[permanent dead link], Legislative Assembly, 19 September 2012
  18. ^ "Editorial—A Governor on the side". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 January 1996 – via
  19. ^ Clennell, Andrew (7 October 2011). "Governor Marie Bashir makes a grand return home to Government House". The Daily Telegraph.
  20. ^ "Heritage dispute over Sutton Forest mansion Hillview". Southern highland News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  21. ^ "Governor of New South Wales Official Website". Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  22. ^ "Constitution (Governor's Salary) Regulation 1990 (NSW)". Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  23. ^ "GOVERNORS". Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 – 1876) (Evenings ed.). Vic.: National Library of Australia. 6 January 1868. p. 4. Retrieved 2 May 2012.