CANBERRA (AFP) - Former defence forces chief Peter Cosgrove was on Tuesday appointed Australia's new governor-general, representing Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in the constitutional monarchy.
Mr Cosgrove, 66, had long been considered the conservative government's preferred candidate to replace outgoing envoy Quentin Bryce, whose term expires in March.
The retired general, who stood down as Australia's defence chief in 2005, commanded the international peacekeeping force that oversaw East Timor's transition to independence and also served as a platoon commander in Vietnam.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Queen had approved Mr Cosgrove's recommendation, describing him as someone who had "dedicated his life to serving and supporting the Australian community".
"Throughout his life he has demonstrated a commitment to our country and a commitment to service. He has given service of the very highest order to our country," Mr Abbott told reporters. "I am confident that in this new role he will continue to deliver to a grateful nation leadership beyond politics."
Mr Cosgrove said he was honoured and humbled to assume one of the "great constitutional offices of our democracy".
"With the government's blessing I hope to visit widely and often, I hope to meet as many of my fellow Australians as possible," he said.
The governor-general's role is to maintain direct contact with the Queen, who is Australia's head of state, and the British monarch delegates executive power to them in almost every respect.
They have powers to open and dissolve Australia's parliament, commission the prime minister and appoint ministers, rubber-stamp laws passed by parliament and appoint judges and diplomats.
Though the role is largely ceremonial, the governor-general can intervene in Australia's government.
In 1975, then governor-general John Kerr famously dismissed the Gough-Whitlam Labor government amid a constitutional crisis over deadlocked budget bills in one of the most dramatic episodes in Australia's political history.
Debate periodically flares about Australia becoming a republic, but republicans failed to win a national referendum on the question in 1999.
Ahead of national elections last September, state broadcaster ABC polled more than 1.4 million people on the monarchy and found 40 per cent disagreed with a republic, 38 per cent were in favour while the rest were neutral.
Both Mr Abbott and Mr Cosgrove are avowed monarchists, but the new governor-general said he would be guided in his new role by "the will of the people", "I would say I'm a very staunch Australian," Mr Cosgrove said.
"I've served a particular system since I was a lad and if the Australian people retain that system, that will be my guiding light, and it is now. If they ever change at some future time, then the will of the people will prevail." Mr Cosgrove's predecessor Mr Bryce stirred controversy in November by expressing support for Australia becoming a republic - the first such remarks by a sitting governor-general - in a speech in Sydney.
At the time Mr Abbott said Mr Bryce was entitled as a "governor-general approaching the end of her term to express a personal view on a number of subjects and that's what she was doing".