The Royal Powers Act 1953 was passed in preparation of the FIRST EVER Royal Visit of a reigning monarch to Australia, which took place on 3 February 1954. Menzies had sought to strengthen the role of the Sovereign as Queen of Australia, and to remove British ministers and British processes from Australia’s constitutional arrangements. So in 1953, he introduced two bills into the Australian Parliament, the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953, which formally designated the Queen as Queen of Australia, and the second the Royal Powers Act 1953, which affected the Queen’s constitutional position in Australia.
The Government wanted to involve the Queen in some of the formal processes of government, in addition to the inevitable public appearances and social occasions. But the Government’s legal advisers suddenly discovered what had been apparent to some writers at the time of Federation. Andrew Inglis Clark, Charles F. Maxwell and Harrison Moore had pointed out that the Constitution placed all constitutional powers, other than the power to appoint the Governor-General, in the hands of the Governor-General and that he exercised these constitutional powers in his own right, and not as a representative or surrogate of the Sovereign.
It was further pointed out that the Governor-General’s statutory powers, that is, those powers conferred on him by legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, were also conferred on the Governor-General in his own right and could be exercised by no one else—not even the Sovereign.
And so by means of the Royal Powers Act 1953, Parliament empowered the Queen, when she was personally present in Australia, to exercise any power under an Act of Parliament that was exercisable by the Governor-General. The Act further provided that the Governor‑General could continue to exercise any of his statutory powers, even while the Queen was in Australia, and in practice governors-general have continued to do so.
Text of the Royal Powers Act 1953 (Cth):
The Royal Powers Act 1953 has enabled the Queen to preside at three meetings of the Federal Executive Council at Government House, Canberra. She has also opened Parliament on three occasions, and held a Privy Council on five occasions. The Queen has also issued two assignments of powers to the Governor-General under section 2 of the Constitution, acting on each occasion with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. These documents were countersigned by her Australian Prime Minister—Menzies in 1954 and Whitlam in 1973—and they were sealed with the Royal Great Seal of Australia.
Steven Spiers has drawn conclusions relating to the Royal Powers Act 1953. In his papers he asserts that because St. Edward’s Crown had no line of authority, this Act needed to be passed in order for her to “step in” as Queen of this realm. Of course, without the previous false conclusion, the Act could be taken on face value for its true purpose, but because it is built on a false premise, it inevitably arrives at an unintelligible conclusion.
- See A. Inglis Clark, Studies in Australian Constitutional Law, Charles F. Maxwell (G. Partridge & Co.), Melbourne, 1901, pp.54–7, and W. Harrison Moore, The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Charles F. Maxwell (G. Partridge & Co.), Melbourne, 1910, p.162.
- The Royal Powers Act 1953 https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2008C00329
- Sir David Smith “An Australian Head of State: An Historical and Contemporary Perspective”. Papers on Parliament No. 27. (March 1996) https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/~/~/link.aspx?_id=D704CA6CD1B549AF8654FDCFBA383150&_z=z