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The Governor-General of New Zealandmarker ( ) is the representative of the Sovereign in right of New Zealand (currently, Queen Elizabeth II). The Governor-General acts as the Queen's vice-regal representative in New Zealand and is often viewed as the de facto head of state.

The Constitution Act 1986 provides that a "The Governor-General appointed by the Sovereign is the Sovereign's representative in New Zealand." There is no specific term, but by convention the Governor-General usually serves for approximately five years. The office's full title is: The Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in and over New Zealand.

The functions and roles of the Governor-General are set out in letters patent issued in 1983 (amended in 2006) constituting the office of the Governor-General, and include appointing ministers and judges, dissolving Parliament, granting assent to legislation, issuing writs for elections and bestowing honours. All the Governor-General's duties are carried out in the name of The Queen. Beyond constitutional functions, the Governor-General has an important ceremonial role. He or she travels widely throughout New Zealand to open conferences, attend services and commemorations. When travelling abroad, the Governor-General is seen as the representative of New Zealand, and of the Queen of New Zealand, and is treated as a head of state in most ways.

The current Governor-General is Sir Anand Satyanand, who was sworn in on 23 August 2006, replacing Dame Silvia Cartwright.

Administrative support for the Governor-General is provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.


Appointment to the Office is made by the Queen (in her capacity as Queen of New Zealand) on the advice of the Prime Minister to the Queen. The Prime Minister's advice is usually the result of a decision by Cabinet; hence the appointment of the Governor-General is made by the executive of the Government of the day. By convention the Leader of the Opposition is also consulted on the appointment.

Constitutional convention adopted in 1930 following the Imperial Conference held that year allowed for the appointment of the Governor-General to be made upon the advice and recommendation of the New Zealand Government. However, the right granted by the convention was not exercised directly by a New Zealand Prime Minister until 1967.

Although non-partisan while in office, there have been a number of appointments of Governors-General to the office that have attracted considerable controversy. In 1977 Sir Keith Holyoake, a former National Party Prime Minister and a serving Minister of State was controversially appointed as Governor-General, and in 1990 Dame Catherine Tizard, a former Labour Mayor of Auckland and former wife of Labour Deputy Prime Minister Bob Tizard, was appointed to the role. Despite their political backgrounds, neither of these appointments could be said to have discharged their duties in a partisan way. In 2004 National MP Richard Worth, an avowed monarchist, questioned whether the Government had considered that the Earl of Wessex be the next Governor-General.

Swearing-in ceremony

Before the Governor-General enters office, his or her commission of appointment is publicly read in the presence of the Chief Justice of New Zealand (or any other High Court Judge) and the members of the Executive Council. The Governor-General must take the Oath of Allegiance and the oath for the due execution of the office, which the Chief Justice or other High Court Judge administers.

Election proposals

From time to time, there have been proposals to elect the Governor-General. When first drafted, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 contained provision for the Governor to be elected by New Zealand's Parliament. This provision was removed from the final enactment however, probably because the Colonial Office wanted to keep a check on New Zealand's colonial government. In 1887 Sir George Grey, a former Governor and Premier, moved the Election of Governor Bill to make the office of Governor an elective position. The Bill was narrowly defeated 46-48, being opposed by the government of Harry Atkinson.

In 2006 political commentator Colin James suggested that the Governor-General could be elected (or, more correctly, 'nominated' to the Queen) by a 60% majority of votes cast in Parliament. James argued that the New Zealand public should be given the ability to choose the Queen's representative, and that the current system is undemocratic and not transparent. Such a system is not unique, the Governors-General of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are nominated in such a way. Constitutional law specialist Professor Noel Cox, who is also the Chairman of the Monarchist League, criticised the proposal, claiming that "[g]iving the Governor-General a new and separate source of democratic legitimacy could result in a separation between Ministers and Governor-Generals. ...the Governor-Generals would have their own independent popular mandate, and become potential political rivals of the Ministers".

In February 2008, the Republican Movement suggested electing the Governor-General as an interim step to a republic, arguing "Electing the Governor-General allows for easier transition to a republic, because the populace is used to electing someone as a ceremonial de facto head of state."


The Governor-General holds office at the "pleasure" of the Queen, under clause II of the Letters Patent. It is traditional that an appointed individual act as the Queen's representative for a minimum of five years, but the New Zealand Prime Minister may advise the Queen to extend (or shorten) the Vice-Regal's tenure. For instance, Dame Silvia Cartwright would have been in office for five years on 4 April 2006, but her term as Governor-General was extended by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Helen Clark, who deemed that "that the selection and appointment process [should] not coincide with the pre-election period".

Administrator of the Government

A vacancy will occur on the resignation, death, incapacity or absence from New Zealand territory of the Governor-General. In the absence of the Governor-General the Chief Justice acts as the Administrator of the Government, or simply Administrator in everyday usage.

Prior to the granting of responsible government in 1856, the Colonial Secretary (the colonial equivalent of the Minister of Internal Affairs) acted as Administrator of the Government in absence of the Governor.


The Prime Minister may advise the Queen to "recall" the Governor-General, and (so long as the Prime Minister has the confidence of the House of Representatives) the Queen is bound by convention to implement the advice of her Prime Minister. As no New Zealand Governor-General has ever been dismissed on the advice of the Prime Minister, it is unclear how quickly the Queen would act on such advice.

Some constitutional lawyers dispute whether the Queen would implement such advice at all, while others argue that the Queen would delay its implementation. Others argue that the Queen would be obliged to follow the Prime Minister's advice, and further that the Queen would be bound to implement the Prime Minister's advice immediately if so advised.

Critics (usually supporters of a New Zealand republic) describe the ability of the Prime Minister to advise the Queen to recall the Governor-General as a flaw in New Zealand's constitutional make up that gives the Governor-General and the Prime Minister the ability to dismiss one another. They argue that this flaw is exacerbated by the reluctance of the monarch or their representatives to become politically involved. Further, they argue that the flaw means the Governor-General is unable to act as the "constitutional backstop" (a term often used to describe the office), or - as was the case with the 1975 Whitlam dismissal in Australia - to resolve a deadlock the Governor-General may choose to dismiss an elected government despite it having the confidence of the parliament.

Three New Zealand Governors have been recalled from office - William Hobson (who died before he was officially recalled), Captain Robert FitzRoy and Sir George Grey, all before responsible government was granted in 1853.

Political role

As New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy, the Governor-General's role is almost always limited to ceremonial and non-partisan functions. The Constitution Act 1986 provides that a "The Governor-General appointed by the Sovereign is the Sovereign's representative in New Zealand." The Governor-General exercises a number of the remaining Royal Prerogatives, and the reserve powers.

In practice, political power is exercised by the Parliament of New Zealand (which is composed of the Crown, and the House of Representatives), and by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. By constitutional convention, the Governor-General exercises his or her powers solely on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers - the only exception being when the Prime Minister loses the confidence of parliament. Although the Queen of New Zealand is also Queen of the United Kingdom, as New Zealand is a sovereign nation the British Government cannot advise the Governor-General, or otherwise interfere in New Zealand affairs. The Queen does retain all executive power and her Royal Prerogative, but she has never personally intervened in New Zealand politics; almost all of her duties are exercised by the Governor-General, though she alone holds the power to appoint and dismiss the Governor-General, she does so only on the advice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

The Governor-General is bound by constitutional convention to follow the advice of the Prime Minister in their exercise of their powers, so long as the Prime Minister enjoys the support of the House of Representatives. Even in the appointment of the Prime Minister, the Governor-General rarely exercises any discretion, in accordance with unwritten constitutional conventions, the Governor-General must appoint the individual most likely to maintain the support of the House of Representatives: usually, the leader of the largest party or coalition of parties which has a majority in the House of Representatives.

The Governor-General is a symbolic and nominal chief executive, acting within the constraints of constitutional convention and precedent. Should the Governor-General of New Zealand attempt to exercise any powers without reference to constitutional convention and solely at personal discretion, the action would likely result in a constitutional crisis and in public outrage. Almost always, the Governor-General exercises the Royal Prerogative on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers. The Prime Minister and ministers are, in turn, accountable to the democratically elected House of Representatives, and through it, to the people.

The Governor-General appoints and dismisses Cabinet ministers and other ministers, but exercises such a function only on the Prime Minister's advice. Thus, in practice, the Prime Minister, and not the Governor-General, exercises complete control over the composition of the Cabinet. The Governor-General may, in theory, unilaterally dismiss a Prime Minister, but convention and precedent bar such an action.


The Governor-General is the representative of the New Zealand monarch, and may exercise most powers vested in the Crown. If the monarch is present in New Zealand, however, he or she may exercise such powers personally. Furthermore, some powers (such as the power to appoint the next Governor-General, approve a new Royal Honour etc.) may be exercised by the monarch alone.

The "powers conferred" on the Governor-General are stated in the Letters Patent 1983.

The Governor-General presides over an Executive Council. The Prime Minister is appointed to this Council and advises as to which parliamentarians shall become ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

The Executive Council's primary function is to issue Orders-in-Council (regulations), which operate under the authority of "the Governor-General in Council".The Governor-General also summons, and dissolves Parliament. Each parliamentary session begins with the Governor-General's summons. The new parliamentary session is marked by the opening of Parliament, during which the Governor-General reads the Speech from the Throne in the Legislative Council Chamber, outlining the Government's legislative agenda. Dissolution ends a parliamentary term (which lasts a maximum of three years), and is followed by general elections for all seats in the House of Representatives. These powers, however, are always exercised on the Prime Minister's advice. The timing of a dissolution is affected by a variety of factors; the Prime Minister normally chooses the most politically opportune moment for his or her party. The Governor-General may theoretically refuse a dissolution, but the circumstances under which such an action would be warranted are unclear. It might be justified if a minority government had served onlybriefly and another party seemed likely to have better success in holding the confidence of the House.

Before a bill can become law, the Royal Assent (the monarch's approval) is required. The Governor-General acts on the Monarch's behalf; in theory, he or she may grant the Royal Assent (making the bill law), or withhold the Royal Assent (vetoing the bill). By modern constitutional convention, however, the Royal Assent is always granted, and Bills are never disallowed (see Reserve Powers below).

The Governor-General also has the power to appoint ministers, judges, and other officials. However, the appointees are chosen by the Prime Minister or other ministers.

Furthermore, the Governor-General performs some of the functions normally associated with heads of state. He or she makes state visits abroad, hosts foreign heads of state, and receives ambassadors and high commissioners.

Ceremonial role

Increasingly, the Governor-General is representing New Zealand abroad and is accorded the same respect and privileges of a head of state. It can be argued that the de facto head of state is the Governor-General while the de jure head of state remains the Queen; historian Gavin McLean has recently described the Governor-General as a "virtual head of state".

Under the Defence Act 1990 the Governor-General is nominally Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. It is not clear whether the commanders of the armed forces could, in reality, turn to the Governor-General if they thought that the orders they were receiving from the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence were illegal or unethical, or whether the Governor-General would be justified in issuing new orders directly.

Until 1939 the Governor-General also represented the British Government, when the diplomatic functions were transferred to a High Commissioner. This was 13 years after the Balfour Declaration and after the functions were separated in the other Dominions. This was due to the New Zealand belief that such a thing would promote separatism within the British Empire.

Community role

The Governor-General provides leadership in the community. Governors-General are always the patrons of many charitable, service, sporting and cultural organisations. The present Governor-General is patron to nearly 200 organisations. The sponsorship or patronage of the Governor-General signals that an organisation is worthy of wide support. Many of the Governor-General's community functions also have a ceremonial dimension, such as attendance at the official openings of buildings, addresses to open conferences, or launching special events and appeals.

The Governor-General spends a large share of his or her working time attending state banquets and functions, making and hosting state visits, meeting ceremonial groups, and awarding medals, decorations, and prizes.

Starting from New Year's Day 2009, the Governor-General issues a "New Year's Message" that is "to bring to attention a number of issues New Zealanders might consider as they looked to the future".

Reserve powers

In certain circumstances (such as where a Prime Minister has lost a vote of confidence) the Governor-General may act without the advice of the Prime Minister. These are the so-called "Reserve powers". These powers include the ability to:

  • Dissolve or prorogue Parliament;
  • Appoint a Government;
  • Dismiss a Government;
  • Appoint the Prime Minister;
  • Dismiss the Prime Minister;
  • Refuse a Prime Minister’s request for an election;
  • Refuse assent to legislation.

The exercise of the above powers is a matter of continuing debate. Many constitutional commentators believe that the Governor-General (or the Sovereign) does not have the power to refuse Royal assent legislation - former law professor and Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Professor Matthew Palmer argue any refusal of Royal Assent would lead to a constitutional crisis. Some constitutional lawyers, such as Professor Philip Joseph, believe the Governor-General does retain the power to refuse Royal Assent to Bills in exceptional circumstances - such as the abolition of democracy.

As with other Commonwealth realms, Governors-General exercise of the Royal prerogatives under the reserve powers is non-justiciable, that is they cannot be challenged by Judicial review, the unlike the actions of other members of the executive (such as the Prime Minister in Fitzgerald v Muldoon.)

Royal Prerogative of Mercy

The Governor-General also exercises the Royal Prerogative of mercy, an ancient right of convicted persons to seek a review of their case where they allege an injustice may have occurred. The prerogative of mercy can be exercised where a person claims to have been wrongly convicted or wrongly sentenced.

The Governor-General acts on the advice of the Minister of Justice. The Governor-General has power to grant a pardon, to refer a person's case back to the court under section 406 of the Crimes Act 1961, and to reduce a person's sentence. If a person's case is referred back to the court, the court will consider the case in a similar way to hearing an appeal. The court then provides advice to the Governor-General as to how to act. Recently, David Bain was granted such an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which in turn was appealed to the Privy Councilmarker.

Salary and privileges

Flag of the Governor-General
The New Zealand Government pays for all the costs associated with the Governor-General. In the 2009 Budget, the total cost of supporting the Governor-General was $3.6 million on support services and maintenance of residences, a total of $15.150 million on Government House capital investment, principally the conservation of Government House, Wellingtonmarker and a total of just over $1.2 million for payments for the salary, the personal allowance and travel expenses of the Governor-General, a total of $19.95 million.

The salary of Governor-General is regulated by the Civil List Act 1979. As of 2006, the salary is $170,600 a year, which is exempt from income tax. The Governor-General's main residence is Government House, Wellington, and there is a small secondary northern residence, Government House, Aucklandmarker. The houses are managed by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General.

In the order of precedence, the Governor-General outranks all individuals except the head of state. (The Queen herself is not listed in the order of precedence.)

The Governor-General and his spouse are styled "His/Her Excellency" during his term in office. He is also entitled to the style "The Honourable" for life upon assuming the office, except when the Governor-General is a Privy Councillor which carries the style "The Right Honourable".

The Governor-General holds the offices of Chancellor of The New Zealand Order of Merit and Principal Companion of the Queen's Service Order.

The Governor-General's flag is a dark blue flag with the Shield of the New Zealand Coat of Arms surmounted by a Royal Crown in the centre. In heraldic terms the official description is: "A flag of a blue field thereon the Arms of New Zealand ensigned by the Royal Crown all proper". It takes precedence over all other flags, except the head of state's flag. It may be flown from a vehicle in which the Governor-General is travelling, or from a building in which the Governor-General is present or is residing. On state visits abroad, however, the Governor-General typically uses the national flag, which is a more recognizable New Zealand symbol.



From 1832 James Busby was assigned the post of British Resident in New Zealand. Under his direction the signing of the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand at Waitangi established the post of Governor in New Zealand. Captain William Hobson was first appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand by Letters Patent on 24 November 1840 (having previously been the British Consul to New Zealand), when New Zealand was part of the colony of New South Walesmarker. While Hobson is usually considered the first Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Gipps was the first governor over New Zealand, albeit only in his capacity as Governor of New South Wales, until New Zealand was established as a separate colony on 3 May 1841. Hobson continued in office until his death on 10 September 1842. In Hobson's place the Colonial Office appointed Captain Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy struggled to keep order between Māori and settlers keen to buy their land, with very limited financial and military resources at his disposal. His conflicts with the New Zealand Company settlements over land deals lead to his recall in 1845. FitzRoy's replacement, Sir George Grey, is considered by some historians (such as Michael King) to be the most important and influential Governors of New Zealand. Grey was the last Governor of New Zealand to act without reference to parliament. During his first term (1845-1852), Grey petitioned the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker to largely suspend the complex New Zealand Constitution Act 1846 (Grey briefly took the title Governor-in-Chief under the Act but this was eventually reverted back to Governor), drafting his own constitution bill, which became the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. Grey's first term ended before responsible government was implemented.

That task was left to the Administrator of Government, Robert Wynyard who opened the 1st New Zealand Parliament on 24 May 1854. Wynyard was quickly confronted by the demands of the new parliament that the parliament be able to appoint its own ministers, instead of the governor. The parliament passed a resolution to that effect on 2 June. Wynyard and the Executive Council of New Zealand refused to allow this, stating that the Colonial Office made no mention of responsible government in its dispatches. Wynyard then offered to add some elected members of parliament to the Executive Council, which he did - a compromise that worked for a few weeks, until on 1 August 1854, Parliament again demanded complete power to appoint ministers. Wynyard refused, and prorogued parliament for two weeks. Then on 31 August he appointed more elected members to the Executive Council, but when parliament met again on 8 August 1855, it moved a motion of no confidence in the members. Fortunately for Wynyard the next Governor, Sir Thomas Gore Browne, arrived on 6 September 1855. Gore Browne's tenure saw the introduction of responsible government, which greatly reduced the powers of the Governor. In the following years, Gore Browne and Premier Edward Stafford clashed over whether the Governor (and hence the imperial government) had control over Māori affairs, a key issue at the time. Stafford began the practice of Cabinet meeting independently of the Executive Council, further reducing the influence of the Governor. Sir George Grey returned to New Zealand in 1861 for a second term. Grey struggled to meet the competing demands of the Colonial government and British government. The New Zealand Land Wars had brought many British troops to New Zealand, and fearing further fighting Grey, with the support of Edward Stafford, evaded Colonial Office instructions to finalise their return to Britain. In the end the Colonial Office recalled Grey in February 1868.


After Grey, successive Governors of New Zealand were derived from the British aristocracy and played a much less active role in government. In only a few instances did the Governor refuse the advice of the Premier - ironically mainly during the tenure of Sir George Grey as Premier of New Zealand from 1877 to 1879. One famous instance of the use of the Governor's powers came during the term of Sir Arthur Gordon. Sir Arthur had left New Zealand on 13 September 1881 for a visit to the Pacific Islands. In his absence, the Premier John Hall advised the Chief Justice James Prendergast acting as the Administrator of the Government (Prendergast was well known for his views on Maori from his decision in the case Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington), to order the invasion of the Maori pacifist Te Whiti o Rongomai's village at Parihakamarker, something the Governor had indicated he was opposed to.


In 1907 Sir Joseph Ward's Liberal government passed a resolution to create New Zealand as the Dominion of New Zealand. This led to new letters patent being issued in 1917, which greatly curtailed the powers of the Governor. To reflect these changes, the office was renamed Governor-General (equivalent to Governors-General of other Commonwealth countries), with the Earl of Liverpool, the serving Governor, being the first Governor-General.

In 1926, following the King-Byng affair in Canadamarker, an Imperial Conference approved the Balfour declaration, which defined a British Commonwealth as a freely associated grouping known as the Commonwealth of Nations. The declaration was ratified by the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker with the Statute of Westminster 1931. The effect of the Declaration was to elevate the Governor-General from a representative of the British government to a regal position with all the theoretical constitutional powers of the Sovereign. New Zealand did not ratify the statute until after the Second World War however, with the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 being passed on 25 November 1947.

Despite adopting the statute later than most other Commonwealth realms, the functions of the Governor-General in representing the British government were gradually reduced prior to the statute passing. In 1939 Britain appointed its own High Commissioner to New Zealand, Government House ceased to be the official communications channel with Britain in 1941. In 1945 Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser suggested that Sir Bernard Freyberg, the British-born commander of New Zealand's armed forces be appointed Governor-General. Until 1967 the precedent was that Governors-General were nominated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Officemarker in consultation with the New Zealand Prime Minister, who then recommended appointments to the Sovereign.

New Zealand Governors-General

In 1967 the first New Zealand-born Governor-General, Lord Porritt, was appointed to the office, on the advice of Sir Keith Holyoake. Porritt's appointment was followed by Sir Denis Blundell in 1972, who was the first fully New Zealand-resident Governor-General. The appointment of his successor, former Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake proved highly controversial, although Holyoake's tenure itself was uncontroversial. In 1983, letters patent were issued once again, further reducing the powers of the office. Following the 1984 constitutional crisis, the 1852 Constitution Act was replaced by the Constitution Act 1986 and the Governor-General's powers further limited - for example, section 16 of the 1986 Act significantly narrowed section 56 of the 1852 Act so that the Governor-General has much less discretion to refuse Royal Assent to Bills of parliament.

De facto head of state?

Increasingly, the Governor-General is regarded as a de facto head of state. Political commentator Colin James has expressed this view, along with historian Gavin McLean and Prime Minister Helen Clark. The Governor-General has been performing more and more of the functions of a head of state, such as representing New Zealand overseas (a duty Governors-General have carried out since Sir Denis Blundell was in office). For example, at the 2007 commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaelemarker, the Governor-General Anand Satyanand represented New Zealand on behalf of the Queen, while the Queen represented the United Kingdom.

Reform of the office is usually only mentioned in the context of a New Zealand republic. Helen Clark, when defending Dame Silvia Cartwright following a political controversy over prison sentences, stated "[o]ne of the challenges for us is we clearly are no longer a dominion of Britain where the Governor-General is exactly like the Queen. I think we need to consider how the role of governor-general might evolve further. As you know, my view is that one day there will be a president fulfilling the kind of role the governor-general does." Others, such as Professor Noel Cox have argued that the Governor-General's role needs to be updated, rather than reforming the office. Some constitutional academics expressed concern that the process of electoral reform could result in the Governor-General having greater political influence. In 1993, former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard caused controversy by suggesting that under the proposed Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, the Governor-General may have to use their reserve powers more often. Following the adoption of MMP at a referendum later in 1993, Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested at the opening of parliament in 1994 that one reason New Zealand might move to a republic was that the Governor-General would have more influence under the new electoral system.

See also


  1. [1]
  2. Fitzgerald v Muldoon 2 NZLR 615 (1976)

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