The Governor-General and the Great Seal

The Governor-General and the Great Seal

Friday, 10 May 2019

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Group of adult men and women in business attire stand and face the camera. In the foreground is a wooden table. At its centre is a press made up of a metal arm through which a large screw bolt is threaded.

When the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) recently visited the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), he met his ‘seal of approval’.

The Great Seal of Australia is applied at the base of a variety of official documents that he has signed over the past 5 years including commissions of appointment of judges, officers of the defence force, ambassadors and consuls as well as to proclamations, administrative arrangements orders, warrants, orders and letters patent for establishment of Royal Commissions.

Seals are a device with an ancient history and which authenticate a document. Traditionally, they make an impression in wax, clay, paper or some other medium.

The Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Australia is mounted on a press with a counterpart mould to create a positive impression on the paper.

Formal provision for an Australian seal was first made in Letters Patent from Queen Victoria dated 29 October 1900 constituting the office of Governor General and Commander in Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia and providing that –

‘There shall be a Great Seal of and for Our said Commonwealth which Our said Governor-General shall keep and use for sealing all things whatsoever that shall pass the said Great Seal….’

Since the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, there have been 3 seals.

The present (third) Great Seal of Australia was granted by Royal Warrant on 19 October 1973 by the Queen.

It depicts the Australian Coat of Arms which was granted Royal Warrant by King George V in 1912.  It is 63.5 mm in diameter with the individual States represented in the blazon and the Territories symbolised in the Commonwealth star. The Arms symbolise national unity and Commonwealth Government authority. The Arms are accompanied by ornamental rests for the supporters and a scroll with the word ‘Australia’.  Around the circumference are the words ‘Elizabeth the Second Queen of Australia’.  The Seal has a beaded edge.

Custody and use of the Great Seal of Australia is entrusted to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) Secretary, Dr Martin Parkinson, who ensures that it is kept secure and is used to seal only official documents of the Commonwealth of Australia in accordance with the terms of the Royal Warrant signed by the Queen.

The PM&C officer who has operated the Great Seal press more than anybody else over the past 30 years is Mary Pretorius, of the Federal Executive Council* Secretariat. 

‘I’ve been responsible for coordinating material incoming from all Commonwealth agencies, for the Governor-General’s consideration, and ‘sealing’ relevant documents after they have been considered,’ Ms Pretorius said.

‘And I have had the privilege of seeing the Commonwealth through four Governors-General, including Australia’s first female Governor-General, Dame Quentin Bryce (GG from 2008-2014).’

During their visit, the Governor-General and Lady Cosgrove met with Ms Pretorius, and staff in the Federal Executive Council Secretariat to thank them for their support over the past 5 years.

The Governor-General also spoke at an all-staff PM&C gathering where he received a gift presented by the Secretary.

His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Her Excellency Lady Lynne Cosgrove complete their service on 28 June 2019.

For more information see Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

*The role of the Federal Executive Council is to advise the Governor-General in exercising the executive power of the Commonwealth under s62 of the Constitution.  All Federal Ministers of a current Government are sworn in as members of the Executive Council (ExCo) and for each ExCo meeting two Ministers are ‘summoned’ to advise the Governor-General as executive councillors.