New Zealand Cabinet

New Zealand Cabinet

The New Zealand Cabinet functions as the policy and decision-making body of the executive branch within the New Zealand government system. The Prime Minister and Ministers of the Crown serve as members of the Cabinet.

All Cabinet ministers also serve as members of the Executive Council, which "advises" the Governor-General.

Legislative basis

No legislative act established the Cabinet: rather, it exists purely by constitutional convention. This convention carries sufficient weight for many official declarations and regulations to refer to the Cabinet, and a government department exists with responsibility for supporting it (the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). Although Cabinet lacks any direct legislative framework for its existence, the Cabinet Manual has become the official document which governs its functions, and on which its convention rests.

The structure of Cabinet has as its basis the formal institution known as the Executive Council. Most Ministers hold membership of both bodies, but some Executive Councillors — known as "ministers outside Cabinet" — do not have Cabinet positions.

The convention of members of the Executive Council meeting separately from the Governor began during Edward Stafford's first tenure as Premier (1856-1861). Stafford, a long-time advocate of responsible government in New Zealand, believed the colonial government should have full control over all its affairs, without the intervention of the Governor. Because the Governor chaired the Executive Council, Stafford intentionally met with his ministers without the Governor present.


The lack of formal legislation establishing Cabinet leaves the powers of its members loosely defined. However, convention regarding the Cabinet's authority has considerable force, and generally proves strong enough to bind its participants. Theoretically, each minister operates independently, having received a ministerial warrant over a certain field from the Crown (represented by the Governor-General). However, because the Governor-General can withdraw warrants on the Prime Minister's recommendation, the system can compel ministers to act within certain framework.

Cabinet itself acts as the accepted forum for establishing this framework. Ministers will jointly discuss the policy which the government as a whole will pursue, and any minister who does not exercise their respective powers in a manner compatible with Cabinet's decision risks losing those powers. This has become known as the doctrine of collective responsibility. Problems can arise when the Prime Minister breaches collective responsibility, as occurred in 1988 when David Lange spoke out against a Cabinet decision which supported Roger Douglas's radical economic reforms. The Cabinet cannot have the Prime Minister removed in the way that it can dismiss ordinary ministers, and Prime-Ministerial power remains secure unless the governing party or coalition itself decides to act.


Currently, significant ministers include:

* the Prime Minister
* the Deputy Prime Minister
* the Minister of Finance
* the Minister of Foreign Affairs (usually a member of Cabinet)
* the Attorney-General

Other Ministers include (with linked lists of past ministers):

* the Minister of Defence
* the Minister of Education
* the Minister of Health
* the Minister of Justice
* the Minister of Railways
* the Minister of Māori Affairs
* the Minister of Transport
* the Minister for Building and Construction
* the Minister of Housing

Styles of address of members

Compare The Honourable and The Right Honourable.


A Cabinet Committee comprises a subset of the larger Cabinet, consisting of a number of ministers who have responsibility in related areas of policy. Cabinet Committees go into considerably more detail than can be achieved at regular Cabinet meetings, discussing issues which do not need the input of ministers holding unrelated portfolios.

Cabinet Committees will often discuss matters referred to them by Cabinet itself, and then report back the results of their deliberation. This can sometimes become a powerful tool for advancing certain policies, as was demonstrated in the Lange government. Roger Douglas, Minister of Finance, and his allies succeeded in dominating the finance committee, enabling them to determine what it recommended to Cabinet. The official recommendation of the finance committee was much harder for his opponents to fight than his individual claims in Cabinet would be. Douglas was able to pass measures that, had Cabinet deliberated on them itself rather than pass them to Committee, would have been defeated.

Currently eight standing [ Cabinet Committees] exist, of varying importance:

* Policy Committee
* Economic Development Committee
* Social Development Committee
* Legislation Committee
* Government Expenditure and Administration Committee
* Appointments and Honours Committee
* External Relations and Defence Committee
* Domestic and External Security Coordination Committee

Other Cabinet Committees may emerge on a temporary basis, with the purpose of investigating an issue of relevance at the time.

Current members

The table below lists the twenty current members of Cabinet. Ministers appear in their official order of seniority along with the portfolios and responsibilities they hold.

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