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Office of Governor-General

1.5 The Governor-General is the representative of the Sovereign in the Realm of New Zealand. The office of Governor-General is constituted by the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand 1983 (the Letters Patent). The Governor-General is appointed by the Sovereign of New Zealand, on the advice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

1.6 The Realm of New Zealand means the metropolitan state of New Zealand, together with its territories and associated states (the self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency—see clause I of the Letters Patent in the appendix).

Formal powers and functions of office

1.7 Through the Letters Patent, the Sovereign authorises the Governor-General to exercise, on the Sovereign's behalf, the executive authority of the Realm of New Zealand, except as may be otherwise provided by law. The Governor-General therefore plays an important role in many of the formal procedures associated with government.

1.8 In particular, the Letters Patent empower the Governor-General to:

  1. constitute and appoint various officers, such as members of Executive Council, the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Crown, and diplomatic or consular representatives of New Zealand; and
  2. exercise the prerogative of mercy.

These prerogative powers may be governed or supplemented by statute.

1.9 The Letters Patent also constitute the Executive Council over which the Governor-General presides. See paragraphs 1.21 – 1.28 for information about the Executive Council.

1.10The Constitution Act 1986 empowers the Governor-General to:

  1. summon, prorogue (that is, discontinue without dissolving), and dissolve Parliament; and
  2. assent to bills passed by the House of Representatives.

1.11The Governor-General also exercises a range of statutory powers, including making statutory appointments. The Sovereign can exercise every power conferred on the Governor-General.

Royal prerogative

1.12The royal prerogative is the discretionary power held by the Sovereign under common law. Most of the Sovereign's prerogative powers have been delegated to the Governor-General. The Sovereign has retained a number of prerogative powers, including the conferment of certain honours. See paragraphs 1.55 – 1.64 for details of the New Zealand Royal Honours system.

International role

1.13At the invitation of the Prime Minister, the Governor-General undertakes a programme of international travel, representing New Zealand in the head of state role. In New Zealand, the Governor-General welcomes visiting heads of state and receives the credentials of foreign diplomats.

Exercising the powers and functions of office

1.14The office of Governor-General is apolitical. By convention, the Governor-General avoids becoming involved in the party politics of government, despite having an integral role in the formal processes of government.

1.15As members of the Executive Council, Ministers of the Crown are the Governor-General's responsible advisers. In exercising the powers and functions of office, the Governor-General, like the Sovereign, acts on the advice of those Ministers. This advice is tendered either in the forum of the Executive Council, or directly to the Governor-General by the Prime Minister or by another Minister of the Crown. By convention, the Governor-General acts on the advice of Ministers as long as the government of the day retains the confidence of the House of Representatives.

1.16Similarly, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister as long as the government commands the confidence of the House, and the Prime Minister maintains support as the leader of that government.

1.17The Governor-General is required by the Letters Patent to execute the powers and authorities of the office in accordance with the laws of the Realm or any part of the Realm.

1.18In only a very few cases may the Governor-General exercise a degree of personal discretion, under what are known as the “reserve powers”. Even then, convention usually dictates what decision should be made.

1.19The Letters Patent require Ministers to keep the Governor-General fully informed about the general conduct of the government, and to furnish the Governor-General with all information the Governor-General may request on any matter relating to the government of New Zealand.

Administrator of the Government

1.20 If the Governor-General is temporarily absent from New Zealand, or is unable for any other reason to perform the functions of office, the Letters Patent provide for the Chief Justice to act as Administrator of the Government and to perform the functions of the Governor-General (see clause XII of the Letters Patent in the appendix). The Administrator also acts whenever the office of Governor-General is vacant. If the Chief Justice is not able to act, this function is performed by the next most senior judge of the New Zealand judiciary. Provisions concerning the powers of the Administrator are also contained in the Constitution Act 1986.

Last updated: 
Friday, 23 June 2017

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