Skip to main content

The Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations

About the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is a unique grouping of 54 developed and developing nations spread over every continent and ocean in the world. Its membership reflects many religions, races, languages and cultures and its combined population of over two billion people account for approximately 30 per cent of the world's population.

The Commonwealth's population is approximately 2.4 billion, of which more than 60 percent is aged 29 or under (representing one in three of the world's young people). Combined gross domestic product (GDP) of Commonwealth countries is estimated at US$10.4 trillion in 2017, and predicted to reach US$13 trillion in 2020. Half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in the Commonwealth: New Delhi, Mumbai, Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, Bangalore, Johannesburg, Kolkata, Cape Town, Chennai and Dhaka. Over 3.3 million Australians were born in other Commonwealth countries.

Membership entails acceptance of Commonwealth practices and conventions, including the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations. The backbone of the Commonwealth is countries which share the Westminster system and common law. The last country to join the Commonwealth was Rwanda in 2009.

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 has observed more than 140 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980.

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, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland.

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.

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 comprises the major contributors to the Commonwealth budgets, including Australia.

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. Australia currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), and is represented by Australia's Foreign Minister.

As Commonwealth Chair-in-Office from 2011-2013, Australia played a leading role in the development of the Commonwealth Charter.

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 the United Kingdom in April 2018. The theme for the meeting was "Towards a Common Future" (see CHOGM 2018 Communique and Leaders' Statement).

The next CHOGM will be hosted by Rwanda in Kigali. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the meeting has been postponed twice, in 2020 and 2021. Rescheduled dates will be announced by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Rwanda.

Back to top