From this Friday, we all get our
promised and much-anticipated 1 July tax cuts, right? Let’s hope so,
because it seems that someone might have forgotten to tell the
governor-general that the necessary schedules – along with assorted
legislation – needed assenting before the end of the financial year.

Which
is awkward, because the GG sensibly departed frigid Yarralumla last
Friday for a holiday on Stradbroke Island and he won’t be coming back
until 2 July. Somehow this happened before all the Acts that need
assenting for the start of financial year could be presented to him.

So
Government House has despatched lackeys to Stradbroke with appropriate
instruments (for example, the Great Seal of Australia) to obtain the
vital signature before everything gets complicated. For a start, we
hope the baggage handlers behave themselves with those constitutional
tools.

We’re advised that this process bungle is not necessarily
unique – and a bill has never lapsed while before the GG. Still, it
prompted us to go to the constitutional bible, House Practice, to remind us exactly what the GG can do with legislation. The answer is: pretty much anything.

Turning
to page 392, we learn that the Constitution allows the GG “according to
his discretion” to “assent in the Queen’s name, or that he withholds
assent, or that he reserves assent for the Queen’s pleasure, or he may
recommend amendments.” That’s right, the GG can simply refuse to assent
to legislation duly passed by both Houses of Parliament. However, Practice
helpfully advises: “Other than on rare occasions the Governor-General,
in the Queen’s name, is pleased to assent to the bill immediately.”

In
other words, the GG always acts on the advice of the PM; wilful refusal
to sign would lead to a new GG pretty quickly. Parliamentary operatives
with longer memories than us advise that assent was withheld once
during the Hawke years, but only because there had been a cock-up and
the government wanted another crack at it.

But that’s when the
Queen comes in. Advises our constitutional bible: “The Queen may
disallow any law within a year from the Governor-General’s assent.”

So
far it’s never happened, but it’s right there in our Constitution,
folks. It’s unlikely Her Maj will want to disallow your tax cuts –
assuming the GG gets to sign on the dotted line in time.

Peter Fray

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