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The Governor of NSW

The Governor: Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO

The Governor:  Professor Marie Bashir ACProfessor Bashir, the first woman to be appointed Governor of NSW, took up her office on 1 March 2001.
Born, of Lebanese descent, in Narrandera in the Riverina district of NSW, and educated at Narrandera Public School and Sydney Girls High School, Marie Bashir gained her bachelor degrees in medicine and surgery in 1956 from the University of Sydney.

Dr Bashir taught at the Universities of Sydney and NSW, increasingly working with children's services, psychiatry and mental health services, and indigenous health programs. At the time of her appointment as Governor of NSW, she was Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney (a post she took up in 1993); Area Director of Mental Health Services Central Sydney (from 1994); and Senior Consultant to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Redfern (from 1996) and to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Kempsey.

Professor Bashir's widespread involvements and interests have included juvenile justice, research on adolescent depression, health issues in developing countries, education for health professionals and telemedicine and new technologies for health service delivery. Along with many professional medical association roles, she was, at the time of her appointment as Governor, a member of societies as diverse as Amnesty International, the National Trust, the NSW Camellia Research Society and the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Centre, as well as being a patron of the Sydney Symphony and Opera Australia. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988 for her services to child and adolescent health; and was invested by Her Majesty, the Queen, with the insignia of a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 2006.

Professor Bashir is married to Sir Nicholas Shehadie AC OBE and together they have three children and six grandchildren.

The Role of the Governor in NSW: 1788 - 1856

In 1786, under an Act of the Imperial (British) Parliament, Captain Arthur Phillip was issued with a Commission appointing him Governor of NSW. The following year, under another Imperial Act, the Governor of NSW was given the authority, from time to time, to convene a criminal court of judicature to try those people accused of criminal offences against English law, but was given no authority to establish a civil government.

The colony of NSW was a penal colony with a military government. The overwhelming majority of European people in NSW in the early years were convicts and their military guards.

The Governor was instructed to implement the common and statute laws of England as far as the circumstances of the colony would allow. The colonists had brought their law with them.

For the first 35 years after Europeans arrived in NSW, the Governor was generally supreme in the colony. The Imperial Parliament - nearly 20,000 kilometres and 8 months away by sea - was the only superior authority but because communications with the British Parliament were slow and infrequent, the Governors could use wider powers than Parliament intended. The first real opposition to this had nothing to do with demands for democracy. When Governor William Bligh (1806-1810) challenged the near-monopoly of trade and land grants being exercised by army officers of the NSW Corps and their associates amongst the leading landowners, he was arrested by the army in 1808. This was in Australia’s only military coup and for the next two years, until the arrival of a new Governor, officers of the Corps took the role of Governor upon themselves. The arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie with his own regiment in 1810 restored the power of the Governor and saw the NSW Corps disbanded.

Over time, the authority of the Governor led to other concerns. The number of free settlers was increasing and there were claims in NSW and in England that the Governors were acting outside of their authority and making ordinances in conflict with English law. Many of the free settlers claimed that the Governor had no right to make ordinances that applied to them at all, because there was no civil government. The settlers demanded that an assembly be set up to represent them and to give advice to the Governor.

In 1823 the British Parliament responded to these demands and passed an Act "for the better administration of Justice in NSW". The NSW Act was primarily to regulate the system of courts and the judiciary in NSW, but there were provisions in the Act for the establishment of a Legislative Council of between 5 and 7 men to advise the Governor. Under the Act, no Bill could become law until it was approved by the Chief Justice as being consistent with the laws of England, as far as the particular circumstances of the colony would allow.

The first Legislative Councillors appointed were colonial officials and could not initiate laws. In addition to that, all business was discussed in private, and the Governor could override the Council completely. In 1829 the powers of the Governor were limited by another Act and the number of Councillors was increased from 6 to 12. The balance of power swung a little toward the Council because the judiciary was given the power to consider proposed laws before they were introduced. Council meetings were reported by the Press from 1832. The public was admitted to Council meetings in 1838. Interest in the growth of political democracy was increasing. The 1830s saw the introduction and passage through the British Houses of Parliament of the First Reform Act, giving the middle classes in Britain their first taste of political power and opening the way to a widening franchise. The "Sydney Herald" first reported a meeting of the Legislative Council on 23 January 1832, under the administration of Governor Bourke and was also reporting on the passage of the First Reform Act. Each ship arriving in Sydney Harbour from England brought news of the proceedings in the British Parliament and the debates were reported in detail and followed with interest.

In 1842 the first Constitution Act was passed by the Council. It introduced a representative element into the Legislative Council. There were to be 24 elected Members who were landowners and 12 Members appointed by the Governor. However, the Governor still had more power than the Council. If the Council proposed a law with which he did not agree, the Council could be dissolved and the proposed law referred to the British Parliament - effectively delaying the process for months or years. The Governor also controlled the money raised from the sale of land in the colony - a factor which made the Office of Governor financially independent of the Council. It was not until 1852 that the Council gained control of the "waste lands" and the finance they generated.

In 1856 saw great changes when responsible government was constituted in NSW with a bicameral (two House) Parliament modelled on the Westminster system. It was still not democratic, but in 1858 an Electoral Reform Act was passed, giving most men the right to vote (in a secret ballot) nearly 60 years before this was achieved in England. Women won the right to vote in 1902, also many years before England.

For 90 years after the granting of responsible government in 1856, the Governors were not Australian-born. The first Australian born Governor of NSW was Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, who was appointed in August 1946. He was born in Victoria. The first NSW - born Governor was Lieutenant-General (later Sir) Eric Woodward, was appointed in 1957.

The Role of the Governor in NSW: 1856 to the Present

The Governor today has an important constitutional and ceremonial role in the state as well as being deeply involved in community organisations and events. The Governor is patron of hundreds of community organisations and extensively visits and takes part in community activities of all kinds, widely supporting the work of these organisations. On important state ceremonial and public occasions, such as a Governor’s opening of Parliament, Anzac Day and state visits, the Governor presides over events.

The Governor of NSW derives powers from:
  • the Commission
  • specific provisions contained in Acts of Parliament
  • the Royal Prerogative by dint of the Australia Act 1986
The Governor:
  • determines the dates of sessions of the Parliament
  • dissolves the Lower House for General Elections
  • calls the election
  • assents to bills passed by both houses of the Parliament
  • appoints the Ministers
  • presides over the Executive Council
  • proclaims the regulations necessary to make Acts of Parliament functional.

The Governor’s power is exercised on the advice of and through the Ministers responsible to the Parliament. The Cabinet in NSW consists of all of the Ministers and is headed by the Premier, who is the chief adviser to the Governor on the exercise of the matters listed. The underpinning principles of responsible government are that the Ministers sit in Parliament and are answerable or responsible to the Parliament. The Parliament and each Member is responsible to the people.

The supreme executive authority in NSW is the Executive Council, consisting of the Ministers, presided over by the Governor. This is the formal, official arm of the Government, which gives legal authority to proclamations, regulations, appointments to the public service, judiciary, and other public positions such as officers of the Parliament, and commissions for officers of the police force. When these things are done by the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council, they are said to have been done by the Governor-in-Council.

The Ministers hold office at the pleasure of the Crown, i.e. the Governor, but the Governor is required to exercise power on the advice of the Premier and the Ministers. In very rare circumstances, however, Governors may exercise what are called reserve powers. These are discretionary powers only likely to be used in times of political crisis, for example, where a government is defeated on the floor of the House in the Parliament or when the government is a minority government after an election. Constitutional lawyers cannot agree on the nature and extent of the Governor’s reserve powers. The most notable occasion on which these powers were used was in 1932 when the Governor, Sir Philip Game, dismissed the Premier, Jack Lang, and called fresh elections. Game determined that Lang was acting illegally in matters concerning State finances and the Commonwealth.

The bulk of the powers which any Governor of NSW exercises each day come from powers given by Acts of Parliament. For example, an Act might say: "The Governor may ... make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, for and with respect to any matter which this Act is required or permitted to be prescribed ... etc". No governor exercises this power personally. What happens in practice is that the Minister who is responsible for the Act and its regulations advises the Governor on what regulations are necessary. This advice is contained in a minute to be adopted by the Executive Council and signed by the Governor.

The Australia Acts, passed in 1986 by all Australian and the United Kingdom Parliaments, severed the constitutional links that still remained between Australia and the United Kingdom. In 1987, as a consequence of the Australia Acts, the Parliament of NSW amended the NSW Constitution Act of 1902. The Governor remains the Queen’s representative and exercises her powers, but the appointment and dismissal of the Governor is on the advice of the Premier. All bills passed by the Parliament of NSW become Acts when assented to by the Governor in the name of and on behalf of the Queen. The Queen herself would not be asked to assent to a bill unless she is personally present in NSW.

Government House

The first residence of the Governor of NSW was a canvas and timber structure brought out on the First Fleet by Governor Phillip in 1788. A more permanent building was constructed on what is now the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets in Sydney the same year – the site now occupied by the Museum of Sydney.

The new building was extended and patched up over the years by successive governors but was always in poor condition. The house had extensive grounds to its east (the Governor’s Domain), much of which remain today as the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Domain and the grounds of the present Government House.

Government House, SydneyA second Government House was erected in what was then an important agricultural centre and is now the suburb of Parramatta, 25 kilometres inland. This house, in far better condition and in a park-like setting, was much preferred by successive Governors as the Sydney building continued to deteriorate. This building survives today in Parramatta Park as a National Trust property.

    Government House, Sydney

Governor Macquarie (1810-1821) set out to have a new residence designed but the project was not approved by the British Government and only the stables, designed by convict architect Francis Greenway, were erected. This castle-like structure now forms the nucleus of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Finally however, in 1835, the British Home Office did agree that a new Government House was essential, and the Royal Architect, Edward Blore, was commissioned to prepare plans. Work began in 1837 under the supervision of Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis and Colonel Barney of the Royal Engineers. Stone was brought from Sydney quarries, cedar timber from the Shoalhaven and Hunter River districts and marble from inland NSW. Construction was slow. A Queens Birthday Ball was held there in 1843 but the house was not occupied until June 1845 by then Governor, Sir George Gipps.

Old Government House was abandoned and demolished and part of its land passed to the city of Sydney. The building’s foundations were rediscovered in roadworks in 1899 and again in the 1990s, when the site was redeveloped. These became the basis of the Museum of Sydney.

    The present Government House, with its setting on Sydney Harbour, has a garden area of 5 hectares but adjoins the extensive Botanic Gardens beyond its fence and overlooks the Sydney Opera House to its north. It was designed in a romantic Gothic revival style – castellated, crenellated, turreted and bedecked with the coats of arms of its occupants over time. Additions have included a front portico in 1873, an eastern verandah in 1879 and extensions to the ballroom and Governor’s study in 1900-01. It has 12 rooms, mostly for official purposes, on the ground floor and 13 bedrooms on the second floor, plus many spaces designed for offices and services.

    From 1845 until 1996 it served as the Governor’s residence, office and official reception space. However, since 1996 the Governor has not used it as a residence and the Governor’s Office has been relocated (see below). The House is now managed by the Historic Houses Trust and is open to the public although it remains the Governor's official reception space and is frequently used for Vice-Regal purposes. It is the base for a cultural program organised by the Ministry for the Arts and, with the approval of the Governor, is available for charitable and State Government functions.

    Office of the Governor of NSW

    The Governor's Office

    Office of the Governor of NSW Macquarie Street, Sydney

    Since 1996 the Governor of NSW has occupied a suite of offices in the historic Chief Secretary’s Office in Macquarie Street opposite the gates into Government House. The building, built in stages between 1873 and the 1890s, is one of the city’s most important landmarks. Designed in an Italianate style with a French Renaissance attic by Colonial Architects James Barnet and, later, Walter Liberty Vernon, it features elaborate stone carving with statues and coats of arms.

    The offices occupied by the Governor were originally used by Colonial Secretary and Premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes and the Governor’s Office today is almost unchanged from that occupied by Sir Henry in the 1890s, even to the extent of having the same furniture and the same decorations in the same places. Outside the door stands a very large long case clock elaborately carved in walnut by Gustav Becker of Poland around 1875.

      Sir Henry Parkes in the Colonial Secretary’s Office in 1891.  Sir Henry Parkes in the Colonial Secretary’s Office in 1891. The Office itself, now used by the Governor of NSW, has hardly altered.

    The other important room in the office suite has also changed very little. This is the Executive Council Chamber, a meeting room for the Governor and the Executive Council where the Governor regularly meets with representatives of the Ministry. Its Victorian interior is notable for its fine Australian furniture and the fine works of art still in their original position. These include a large elaborately carved 1870s Florentine wooden casket; copies of Titians; portraits of Queen Victoria and Captain James Cook; large majolica vases; bronze busts of five English Prime Ministers, Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens all acquired by Sir Henry Parkes. The room was not used by the Executive Council for several decades, the Council meeting at Government House instead, but it has now resumed its original purpose.

    The address of the Governor is:

      Office of the Governor of NSW
      Level 3, Chief Secretary's Building
      121 Macquarie Street
      SYDNEY NSW 2000.

    A List of Governors of NSW

    1. Captain Arthur Phillip, RN 26 Jan, 1788 to 10 Dec, 1792
    2. Captain John Hunter, RN 11 Sept, 1795 to 27 Sept, 1800
    3. Captain Philip Gidley King, RN 28 Sept, 1800 to 12 Aug, 1806
    4. Captain William Bligh, RN 13 Aug, 1806 to 26 Jan, 1808
    5. Major-General Lachlan Macquarie 1 Jan, 1810 to 1 Dec, 1821
    6. Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane 1 Dec, 1821 to 1 Dec, 1825
    7. Lt-Gen. Ralph Darling 19 Dec, 1825 to 22 Oct, 1831
    8. Major-General Sir Richard Bourke 3 Dec, 1831 to 5 Dec, 1837
    9. Sir George Gipps 24 Feb, 1838 to 11 July, 1846
    10. Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy 3 Aug, 1846 to 20 Jan, 1855
    11. Sir William Thomas Denison 20 Jan, 1855 to 22 Jan, 1861
    12. Rt. Hon. Sir John Young (Gov-in-Chief) 16 May, 1861 to 24 Dec, 1867
    13. Rt. Hon. Somerset Richard, Earl of Belmore 8 Jan, 1868 to 21 Feb, 1872
    14. Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson 3 June, 1872 to 19 Mar, 1879
    15. Rt. Hon. Sir Augustus Loftus 4 Aug, 1879 to 9 Nov, 1885
    16. Rt. Hon. Charles Robert, Baron Carrington 12 Dec, 1885 to 3 Nov, 1890
    17. Rt. Hon. Victor George, Earl of Jersey 15 Jan, 1891 to 2 Mar, 1893
    18. Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Duff 29 May, 1893 to 15 Mar, 1895
    19. Rt. Hon. Henry Robert, Viscount Hampden 21 Nov, 1895 to 5 Mar, 1899
    20. Rt. Hon. William, Earl Beauchamp 18 May, 1899 to 30 April, 1901
    21. Admiral Sir Harry Rawson 27 May, 1902 to 27 May 1909
    22. Rt. Hon. Frederick Napier, Baron Chelmsford 28 May, 1909 to 11 Mar, 1913
    23. Sir Gerald Strickland, Count della Catena 14 Mar, 1913 to 27 Oct, 1917
    24. Sir Walter Davidson 18 Feb, 1918 to 4 Sept, 1923
    25. Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair 28 Feb, 1924 to 7 April, 1930
    26. Air Vice-Marshall Sir Philip Game 29 May, 1930 to 15 Jan, 1935
    27. Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven 21 Feb, 1935 to 22 Jan, 1936
    28. Admiral Sir Murray Anderson 6 Aug, 1936 to 29 Oct, 1936
    29. The Right Hon Baron Wakehurst 8 April, 1937 to 8 Jan, 1946
    30. Lt-Gen Sir John Northcott 1 Aug, 1946 to 31 July, 1957
    31. Lt-Gen Sir Eric Woodward 1 Aug, 1957 to 31 July, 1965
    32. Sir Arthur Roden Cutler 20 Jan, 1966 to 19 Jan, 1981
    33. Air Marshall Sir James Rowland 20 Jan, 1981 to 20 Jan, 1989
    34. Rear Admiral Sir David Martin 20 Jan, 1989 to 7 Aug, 1990
    35. Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair 8 Aug, 1990 to 29 Feb, 1996
    36. The Honourable Gordon J Samuels 1 Mar, 1996 to 28 February 2001
    37. Professor Marie Bashir 1 Mar, 2001 to the present

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