The Governor-General is appointed by the monarch on the "advice and recommendation" of the Prime Minister. Until a series of fundamental changes in British Commonweath under the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act[?] (1927) and the Statute of Westminster (1931), the Governor-General fulfilled three roles; he was
Under a series of changes made in the 1920s and 1930s, the latter two functions were abolished. The Governor-General became the sole agent and representative of the monarch as monarch of Australia. (Prior to the changes, the monarch was merely monarch in Australia. This change in title was finally recognised in Australian law in the 1970s.) The monarch, as Queen of Australia, appoints the Governor-General on the advice and recommendation of the Prime Minister of Australia.
The office of Governor-General was created when the Australian Constitution entered into force on January 1, 1901. The first Governor-General, Rt Hon John Adrian Louis Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, was British; an Australian did not become Governor-General until the appointment in 1931 of Rt Hon Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs[?], the ninth Governor-General - the appointment of a non-Briton was denounced by the major conservative party of the time, the United Australia Party as being "practically republican".
The Governor-General is Commander-in-Chief of the Australian armed forces, and is responsible for granting the Royal Assent to (ie, signing into law) all Acts of the Australian Parliament, and many (though not all) Regulations made under those Acts. He is responsible for the calling of elections and the appointment of the Prime Minister and chairs meetings of the Executive Council[?] (cabinet). He also has "reserve powers", whose boundaries are not clearly defined within the Constitution, and which are rarely used, but which were important in the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975.
Whilst in theory the Governor-General wields almost dominant powers (as was the case in most contemporary constitutions, where most power was vested in the head of state or their representative), in practice his powers are very limited. By Convention, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and Ministers, i.e. he does what they say. He is advised by the Executive Council, which consists of the current and all former Comonwealth ministers, although only the current ministers are permitted to attend its meetings.
The office of Governor-General is regulated primarily by the Australian constitution and by the Governor-General Act 1974 (http://scaleplus.law.gov.au/html/pasteact/0/284/top.htm).
One largely unresolved issue is the forced removal of a Governor-General before their term is complete - an event that has not yet occurred. It is generally accepted that the Monarch would have no choice but to dismiss the Governor-General on the written advice of the Australian Prime Minister, and replace them with the Prime Minister's nominee. However, it is unclear how quickly the monarch would act on such advice in a constitutional crisis, where a race could theoretically emerge between a Governor-General and the Prime Minister to sack the other.
As well as the formal constitutional role, the Governor-General has a ceremonial role, though the extent and nature of this role has depended on the individual in the office at the time and their reputation in the wider community. They generally become patrons of various charitable institutions, for instance, host innumerable functions for various groups of people, often travel widely throughout Australia - to some extent replicating the actions of the British Monarch in her own country, or a ceremonial presidency such as the Republic of Ireland's. Sir William Deane[?] described one of his functions as "Chief Mourner" at prominent funerals. This can become controversial, however, if the Governor-General becomes unpopular with sections of the community for whatever reason; for instance, the public role of Sir John Kerr was curtailed somewhat after the constitutional crisis of 1975, Sir William Deane's public statements on the plight of the unfortunate rankled some within the Howard government, and some charities disassociated themselves with Peter Hollingworth after the scandal broke about his management of sex abuse cases as an archbishop.
The issue of becoming a republic (ie. removing the constitutional ties with the British monarchy) continues to be raised repeatedly in Australia, although the idea was defeated in a nationwide referendum held in 1999. In most of the proposed republican models, the office of the Governor-General is effectively preserved (in the practical sense described above), although the title is changed to President.
On the death or incapacity of the Governor-General, or his absence from Australian territory, an Administrator assumes his powers. In the May 2003 crisis there was the new situation of the Governor-General standing aside temporarily, and the letters patent of the office were amended to take account of this. The senior state governor, Sir Guy Green of Tasmania, assumed office of Administrator when Dr Peter Hollingworth stepped down.
Canada also has an office of Governor-General, similar to that of Australia: See Governor-General of Canada.
See also: republicanism in Australia