These first Instructions from the Queen to her chosen representative in the new Commonwealth, with the Letters Patent issued the same day, set in motion the government of a federated Australia. Both documents were issued under Section 2 of the Australian Constitution, which provides for the Queen to appoint a Governor-General to represent her in Australia.
The Governor-General is the keystone of the Commonwealth of Australia as a British constitutional monarchy. The vital role of the Governor-General is highlighted by the sequence of events, and documents, between 9 July 1900 and 1 January 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act
became law with the Queen's Assent
on 9 July 1900 and the following week, on 14 July, Queen Victoria appointed Lord Hopetoun, Governor of Victoria from 1889 to 1895, as the first Governor-General. On 16 July the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, set 1 January 1901 as the date on which the Commonwealth would be established; it was not until 31 July when the Western Australian referendum was held that the sixth member of the Federation was confirmed. Two months later, on 17 September 1900, the Queen signed the Proclamation of Inauguration Day and on 29 October 1900 issued both the Letters Patent
formally establishing the office of Governor-General and these first Instructions to Hopetoun.
The nine sections of the Instructions require the Governor-General to execute specific powers including the grant of pardons, and also refer to matters relating to future holders of the office. This document is of special significance as the first Instructions to the first Governor-General, as it contains the provisions for founding the key office of the new Commonwealth. The Instructions require Hopetoun to have the Letters Patent read out at the ceremony of Inauguration of the Commonwealth on 1 January 1901 and to take the various Oaths of Office there in the presence of the Queen's other vice-regal officers, the Governors of the six colonies, and members of the colonial courts and parliaments. After his arrival in Sydney in December 1900 Hopetoun appointed the first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton (after the misstep of choosing the New South Wales Premier Sir William Lyne, an unpopular anti-Federationist, which became known as 'the Hopetoun blunder'). Barton chose his first Ministers, who were sworn in by Hopetoun on the birthday of the new Commonwealth.
Any delegation of Royal authority is a matter of great importance in a monarchy and these four documents all play a part in the substantial legal transfer of powers which took place in the six months prior to Inauguration Day. The Queen was not only delegating specific and weighty constitutional authority, such as the power to appoint judges and Ministers of State. She was also creating a vice-regal officer 'who shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen's pleasure . . . such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him'. This wording, in Section 2 of the Australian Constitution, carries the vital proviso 'but subject to this Constitution', our legacy of the victory of the English Parliament in the struggle over the powers of the King fought out in the civil war of the 17th century.
The importance of the Governor-General as representative of the Head of State is also made clear in Section 1 of the Constitution, which states that the Federal Parliament shall comprise the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and Section 5, the provision underlying the controversial dissolution of the Parliament by the Governor-General in 1975
The Governor-General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.
As well as providing for the appointment by the Queen of a Governor-General to be her 'representative in the Commonwealth' (Section 2), the Constitution also covers the amount of salary (£10 000) and limitation on drawing any other salary from the Commonwealth (Sections 3 and 4). Hopetoun left Australia two years after his appointment as he found the salary inadequate; the Governor of South Australia, Lord Tennyson, became Governor-General in July 1902 but in December the following year he also resigned.
Eastman, David, (comp.), The Founding Documents of the Commonwealth of Australia
, Canberra, 1994.
Instructions to the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia 29 October 1900
A search for this document in the National Archives of Australia located only a photostat copy (NAA: CP8/1, 4) apparently made in 1946 when the original was in the custody of the Office of the Governor-General. This shows that the original document was five foolscap pages, signed by Queen Victoria on the first page and initialled on the last. A search among the records of the Office of the Governor-General has also failed to locate the original; a subsequent search among the papers of Lord Hopetoun was also unsuccessful. The search for this important document continues.
The collection of the National Archives of Australia includes the associated original documents, Lord Hopetoun's signed Oaths of Office and Proclamation (NAA: A6661, 145 and 146) and also Lord Tennyson's Oaths of Office and Proclamation (NAA: A6661, 95, 96 and 450. Photostat copies of the Additional Instructions issued by King Edward VII to Lord Tennyson on 11 August 1902 are also held in the National Archives (NAA: CP8/1, 4).