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Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia

Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia
Paul Singer MVO
since 18 August 2018 (2018-08-18)
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Term lengthat the Governor's pleasure
Inaugural holderSir George Steward
Formation1903 (1903)

The official secretary to the governor-general of Australia and staff provide support to the governor-general of Australia to enable the governor-general to carry out their constitutional, statutory, ceremonial and public duties. Until 1903, the governor-general’s private secretary provided the support to the governor-general, when the official secretary position was established. The position was abolished in 1928 after the Parliament moved from Melbourne to Canberra, but was recreated in 1931.[1][2] The position was established by statute in its current form in 1984. Since 18 August 2018 the official secretary has been Paul Singer.[3]


The support provided by the Office of the Official Secretary includes the organisation of, and advice relating to, their duties, hospitality for official functions, and administration of the Australian honours and awards system. The official secretary acts as the Secretary of the Council for the Order of Australia.

The Office also manages and maintains the official properties and associated heritage buildings and grounds, and opens the properties to members of the public for events sponsored by charitable institutions. The official secretary is supported in his or her role by program managers responsible for Executive Support, Household and Property, Organisation Services, and by the Director of the Honours Secretariat.


The best known official secretary is Sir David Smith, who served five governors-general between 1973 and 1990. He was official secretary to Sir John Kerr at the time of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Following the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the swearing-in of the leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, Smith read out the proclamation of the dissolution of Parliament on the steps of the then Parliament House (now Old Parliament House) in Canberra, with Whitlam and a large crowd attending. The official secretary's proclamation was referred to in Whitlam's famous address to the crowd:

Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned "Malcolm Fraser", who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's Cur.

Whitlam chose those words to highlight the fact that his government (since winning the double dissolution election of 1974) had abolished use of the words "God Save The Queen" at the end of all official proclamations. Its reinstatement by Smith was an autocratic act taken entirely on his own part;[4] indeed, the newly minted "caretaker" Fraser government was not empowered to make such changes. At that time, the official secretary was an officer of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, on secondment to Government House. The department held and processed all Government House's personnel and financial records. This lack of formal independence led some to criticise Smith in 1976 for having failed to keep Whitlam and his departmental head informed of Kerr's thinking in the period leading up to Whitlam's dismissal.[citation needed] Smith subsequently resolved to secure more formal independent power for himself, his office and staff.[citation needed] Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen all agreed with him but urged a cautious delay.[citation needed] The right time finally arrived in 1984 under the Hawke government.

The 1984 amendment to the Governor-General Act 1974 provided for the establishment of a statutory office of official secretary, to be appointed by the governor-general-in-council, to employ the necessary staff, and to hold office at the governor-general's pleasure. All personnel and financial records were transferred to Government House.[citation needed] Since 1985, an annual report of the official secretary is presented to both houses of parliament.[5]

Some earlier official secretaries played significant political roles in their own right. Lord Hopetoun had brought his own private secretary, Captain Edward Wallington, who handled all his communications with London. The Australians resented an Englishman being in charge of official business. At that time, the payment of the governor-general's staff and the maintenance of the two official establishments in Sydney and Melbourne was at the governor-general's personal expense. His successor Lord Tennyson was frugal by nature, and wanted some relief from this financial burden. Prime Minister Alfred Deakin suspected that Tennyson was reporting on him to London and trying to interfere on matters of policy, such as the naval agreement between Britain and Australia. The official secretary would have been involved in these intrigues. He therefore proposed that the governor-general's official secretary be paid for by the Australian government, as long as it was also able to appoint him. The British government objected (privately) because this would mean that the governor-general could not carry out what was seen in London as his broader role in supervising the Australian government. While Tennyson shared this understanding of his role, he nevertheless agreed to Deakin's proposal, and Parliament approved the arrangement in August 1902. However, the relations between the two men, which had been frosty, were not improved by this episode, and Deakin did not encourage Tennyson to seek an extension of his one-year term.[6]

In 1916, George Steward, official secretary to Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, founded and headed the Counter-Espionage Bureau, Australia's first secret service, whose agents pursued Industrial Workers of the World and Sinn Féin activists. Munro Ferguson was as unenthusiastic about these duties of his official secretary (whom he dubbed 'Pickle the Spy') and the unsavoury characters who consequently lurked about Government House as he was with the secret political work which Steward sometimes performed for Prime Minister Billy Hughes.[7]

The longest serving official secretary was Sir Murray Tyrrell, who served six governors-general over 26 years, 1947–1973.

The current official secretary is Paul Singer, who began duty on 18 August 2018.[8]

List of official secretaries

The following list show the appointed secretaries and acting secretaries in order of appointment. The honours shown were held at the time of appointment.

Official Secretary Post
Period Governors-general served Notes
Major Sir George Steward KBE, CMG 27 March 1903 – 28 February 1919 Tennyson, Northcote, Dudley, Denman, Munro Ferguson [9][10][11][12]
John Starling CMG, OBE 12 June 1919 – 15 March 1928 Munro Ferguson, Forster, Stonehaven The position of official secretary was abolished in 1928 but Starling continued as Secretary to the Federal Executive Council.[1][13][2]
Rear Admiral Sir Leighton Bracegirdle KCVO, CMG, DSO, RAN 1931 – March 1947[14] Isaacs, Gowrie, Gloucester, McKell
Sir Murray Tyrrell KCVO, CBE 25 March 1947 – 30 January 1973 McKell, Slim, Dunrossil, De L'Isle, Casey, Hasluck
William Heseltine (acting) MVO May–August 1962 De L'Isle Later served as Private Secretary to the Sovereign and appointed a GCB, GCVO, AC, QSO
Sir David Smith KCVO, AO 30 January 1973 – 1 September 1990 Hasluck, Kerr, Cowen, Stephen, Hayden
Douglas Sturkey CVO, AM 1 September 1990 – 14 July 1998[15] Hayden, Deane [16]
Martin Bonsey AO, CVO 15 July 1998 – 9 May 2003[17] Deane, Hollingworth [18][19][20]
Malcolm Hazell CVO, AM 9 May 2003 – 4 September 2008 Hollingworth, Jeffery Later appointed an Extra Equerry to Queen Elizabeth II.[21] Later appointed an AO.
Stephen Brady CVO 5 September 2008 – 26 June 2014 Bryce, Cosgrove Later served as the Australian Ambassador to France and appointed an AO.
Mark Fraser LVO, OAM 27 June 2014 – 17 August 2018 Cosgrove Later appointed an AO and CVO.
Lieutenant Paul Singer MVO, RANR 18 August 2018 – present Cosgrove, Hurley

See also


  1. ^ a b Australian Dictionary of Biography: John Henry Starling CMG OBE
  2. ^ a b "OFFICES ABOLISHED, CREATED, ETC". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National : 1901 - 1973). 15 March 1928. p. 492. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Acting Official Secretary to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia -- Mr Paul Singer MVO" (PDF). Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  4. ^ Smith, D., Head of State, p. 252-4
  5. ^ Odgers: House of Representatives Practice
  6. ^ Brian Carroll: Australia's Governors General
  7. ^ ADB: Sir George Steward
  8. ^ [1] 18 August 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2018
  9. ^ "Government Gazette Appointments and Employment". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National : 1901 - 1973). 4 April 1903. p. 181. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Commonwealth public service". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National : 1901 - 1973). 27 February 1919. p. 354. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  11. ^ It's an Honour: George Steward: CMG
  12. ^ It's an Honour: Sir George Steward KBE
  13. ^ "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National : 1901 - 1973). 12 June 1919. p. 1000. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  14. ^ Christopher Cunneen: William John McKell
  15. ^ Resignation of Douglas Sturkey and appointment of Martin Bonsey
  16. ^ It's an Honour: Douglas Sturkey CVO
  17. ^ Political Storm faces PM
  18. ^ It's an Honour: Martin Bonsey LVO
  19. ^ It's an Honour: Martin Bonsey CVO
  20. ^ It's an Honour: Martin Bonsey AO
  21. ^ It's an Honour: Malcolm Hazell CVO
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Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia
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