The Commonwealth of Nations

Logo of the Commonwealth Secretariat

About the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is a unique grouping of 53 developed and developing nations spread over every continent and ocean in the world (with one member, Fiji, currently suspended). Its membership reflects many religions, races, languages and cultures and its 2 billion people account for approximately 30 per cent of the world's population. 

As a general rule applicant countries should have had an historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member. Membership also entails acceptance of Commonwealth practices and conventions, including the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations.

The values and aspirations which unite the members of the Commonwealth – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – are reflected in the Charter of the Commonwealth, adopted in December 2012. The Charter expresses the commitment of Commonwealth members to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity.

The Commonwealth is supported by a range of associated networks and interests which include civil society, professional and parliamentary groups covering issues ranging from democracy to youth affairs, labour issues, gender equity, human rights, health and education.

Governance arrangements

The work of the Commonwealth is administered by the Commonwealth Secretariat based in London. The Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General, Mr Kamalesh Sharma, supported by three Deputy Secretaries-General, who are responsible for the Secretariat’s various programs.

The Secretariat’s Board of Governors meets annually in May to give direction to the Secretariat on major policy issues and to approve strategic plans, work programs and budgets. 2013/14 – 2016/17 Commonwealth Secretariat Strategic Plan

An Executive Committee of the Board of Governors meets every quarter to oversee budgets and audit functions and make policy recommendations to the annual meetings of the Board. Membership of the Executive Committee is geographically balanced and includes the major contributors to the Commonwealth budgets.

Australia and the Commonwealth

Australia is a founding member of the modern Commonwealth and has been an active participant in Commonwealth organisations, programs and meetings for over 60 years.  It is the third-largest contributor to the Commonwealth budget. 

As Commonwealth Chair-in-Office from 2011-2013, Australia played a leading role in the development of the Commonwealth Charter.  It was also a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for the same period.

Australia is represented on the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Board of Governors, and its Executive Committee, by the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. 

Australia supports the Commonwealth to promote human rights, democratic norms and good governance among member countries.  The Commonwealth’s work in supporting inclusive growth and sustainable development also recognises the intrinsic connection between the security and stability of governments and economic development.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings

Every two years Commonwealth leaders meet at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree on collective policies and initiatives.

CHOGMs also provide Commonwealth leaders with a forum for informal exchanges and bilateral contact. For Australia, it gives us a substantive link and point of commonality with many countries with whom we otherwise have limited bilateral contact.

Commonwealth ministers from a range of portfolios meet between CHOGMs to consider specific issues relating to democracy, economics and development, women's affairs, youth, legal issues, health and education.

CHOGM was last held in Colombo in November 2013. The theme for the meeting was “Growth with Equity: Inclusive Development” (see CHOGM 2013 Communique). The next meeting will be held in Malta in 2015.