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The Cabinet of New Zealand (Māori: Te Rūnanga o te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa)[n 1] is the New Zealand Government's body of senior ministers, responsible to the New Zealand Parliament. Cabinet meetings, chaired by the prime minister, occur once a week; in them, vital issues are discussed and government policy is formulated. Though not established by any statute, Cabinet has significant power in the New Zealand political system and nearly all bills proposed by Cabinet in Parliament are enacted.
The New Zealand Cabinet follows the traditions of the British cabinet system. It operates as a collegiate body with collective responsibility. While Cabinet is responsible to Parliament for making policy decisions, Cabinet discussions are confidential and are not disclosed to the public apart from the announcement of decisions.
All ministers in Cabinet also serve as members of the Executive Council, the body tasked with advising the governor-general in the exercise of his or her formal constitutional functions. Outside Cabinet, there are a number of non-Cabinet ministers, responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to a senior Cabinet minister. Ministers outside Cabinet are also part of Cabinet committees and will regularly attend Cabinet meetings which concern their portfolios. Therefore, although operating outside of Cabinet directly, these ministers do not lack power and influence as they are still very much part of the decision making process.
Cabinet is not established by any statute or constitutional document but exists purely by long-established constitutional convention. This convention carries sufficient weight for many official declarations and regulations to refer to Cabinet, and a government department—the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—is responsible for supporting it. 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, the body tasked with advising the governor-general in the exercise of his or her formal constitutional functions (i.e. the Governor-General in Council). Most ministers hold membership of both bodies, but some executive councillors—known as "ministers outside Cabinet"—do not attend Cabinet. 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, thus reducing the Executive Council to its formal role.
The lack of formal legislation establishing Cabinet leaves the powers of its members only loosely defined. Cabinet generally directs and controls policy (releasing government policy statements), and is responsible to the House of Representatives (the elected component of Parliament). It also has significant influence over lawmaking. Convention regarding 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. But the governor-general can dismiss a minister at any time, conventionally on the advice of the prime minister, so ministers are largely obliged to work within a 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 ministers who do not exercise their respective powers in a manner compatible with Cabinet's decision risk losing those powers. This has become known as the doctrine of collective responsibility. Collective responsibility is a constitutional convention which rests on three principles. The first principle is unanimity, where members of Cabinet must publicly support decisions and defend them in public, regardless on any personal views on the matter. Secondly, the confidentiality limb means that all Cabinet discussions are to be kept confidential. This allows for open and explicit conversation, discussion and debate on the issues Cabinet chooses to look at. The final principle is confidence, where Cabinet and executive government must have the confidence of the House of Representatives. If there is no government, the governor-general has the ability to intervene to find a government which does have confidence.
Formally all ministers are equals and may not command or be commanded by a fellow minister. Constitutional practice does, however, dictate that the prime minister is primus inter pares, meaning 'first among equals'.
Problems arise when the prime minister breaches collective responsibility. Since ministerial appointments and dismissals are in practice in the hands of the prime minister, Cabinet can not directly initiate any action against a prime minister who openly disagrees with their government's policy. On the other hand, a prime minister who tries to act against concerted opposition from their Cabinet risks losing the confidence of their party colleagues. An example is former Prime Minister David Lange, who publicly spoke against a tax reform package which was sponsored by then-Finance Minister Roger Douglas and supported by Cabinet. Lange dismissed Douglas, but when the Cabinet supported Douglas against Lange, Lange himself resigned as prime minister.
The doctrine of collective responsibility has changed since the introduction of the mixed-member proportional system (MMP) in 1993 (see below). The change allowed for junior parties in a coalition the ability to 'agree to disagree' with the majority in order to manage policy differences. Following the 2011 general election the National-led government released the following statement in regards to the role of minor parties in the context of collective responsibility:
Collective responsibility applies differently in the case of support party Ministers. Support party Ministers are only bound by collective responsibility in relation to their own respective portfolios (including any specific delegated responsibilities). When support party Ministers speak about the issues in their portfolios, they speak for the government and as part of the government. When the government takes decisions within their portfolios, they must support those decisions, regardless of their personal views and whether or not they were at the meeting concerned. When support party Ministers speak about matters outside their portfolios, they may speak as political party leaders or members of Parliament rather than as Ministers, and do not necessarily support the government position.
The 1993 referendum in New Zealand resulted in a number of structural changes to Cabinet. The change to the MMP system ultimately led to a larger number of political parties in Parliament, as under the proportional representation system any political party can enter Parliament if they received five percent of the party vote or won one electorate seat. The increased representation resulted in the need to form coalitions between parties, as no single party has received a majority of votes and seats under MMP.
In order to govern in a coalition under MMP, it is likely that a major party will have to relinquish and offer Cabinet positions to members of a minority party. The 1996 general election highlighted the changes which were predicted to result from MMP. New Zealand First received 13.4% of the party vote, giving them 17 total seats in the House of Representatives (compared to 8.5% in the 1993 general election, conducted under the FPP voting system). This ultimately resulted in the National-New Zealand First coalition as the National Party, who received 33.8% of the party vote, translating to 44 seats in the House, could not govern alone.
Negotiations forming the new government took nearly two months however the ultimate result being that New Zealand First were to have five ministers inside Cabinet and four outside. This translated to having 36.4% of representation in the new government. The Prime Minister following the 1996 election, Jim Bolger, was forced to tell his caucus during negotiations with New Zealand First, that he would not be able to satisfy all ambitions of the caucus, due to the forced inclusion of the minority party into the governmental framework, thus highlighting one of the challenges that came with MMP.
The result of MMP on Cabinet structure in New Zealand is also highlighted below under the 'Members' heading. In the coalition deal following the election New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was given the position of deputy prime minister, and New Zealand First were given a number of ministerial portfolios including foreign affairs, infrastructure, regional economic development, and internal affairs.
Cabinet meets on a regular basis, usually weekly on a Monday, to discuss the most important issues of government policy. The prime minister typically chairs the meeting and sets the agenda. All Cabinet meetings are held behind closed doors and the minutes are kept confidential. The Cabinet offices, including the room where Cabinet meets, are located on the top floor of the Beehive (the executive wing of the Parliament Buildings).
The prime minister assigns roles to ministers and ranks them in order to determine seniority. A minister's rank depends on factors such as "their length of service, the importance of their portfolio and their personal standing with the prime minister". The deputy prime minister and minister of finance are usually the highest-ranked ministers, after the prime minister. Under MMP, there are three categories of minister: ministers within the 'core' Cabinet, ministers outside Cabinet, and ministers from support parties (i.e. minor parties which have agreed to support a government party during confidence and supply votes). The size of Cabinet has grown over time. In the 1890s, for example, there were seven Cabinet ministers. The number of ministers within Cabinet increased in the period up until the 1970s, but has plateaued at 20 since 1972; this despite increases in the number of members of parliament; by contrast, the numbers of ministers outside Cabinet has grown, especially since the introduction of MMP.
All ministers have the style of "The Honourable", except for the prime minister, who is styled "The Right Honourable". Additionally, in the current Cabinet, Winston Peters is styled as The Right Honourable, having been appointed a member of the Privy Council prior to the change in rules regarding the use of the style.
The current Labour-led coalition government has a Cabinet of 20 ministers, four of whom are New Zealand First MPs. There are four Labour ministers outside Cabinet; and three support ministers from the Green Party, which has a confidence-and-supply agreement with Labour. Additionally, there are two parliamentary under-secretaries who assist the ministers from a parliamentary standpoint, and represent the minister they assist when they are unavailable.[n 3]
Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
Minister for National Security and Intelligence
Leader of the Labour Party
|The Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern MP||Minister for Child Poverty Reduction||Mt Albert|
|2.||Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister for State Owned Enterprises
Minister for Racing
Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control
Leader of New Zealand First
|The Rt. Hon. Winston Peters MP||List|
|3.||Minister for Crown/Māori Relations
Minister of Corrections
Minister of Tourism
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
|The Hon. Kelvin Davis MP||Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education)||Te Tai Tokerau|
|4.||Minister of Finance
Minister for Sport and Recreation
|The Hon. Grant Robertson MP||Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
Minister Responsible for the Earthquake Commission
|5.||Minister of Urban Development
Minister for Economic Development
Minister of Transport
|The Hon. Phil Twyford MP||Te Atatū|
|6.||Minister of Energy and Resources
Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration
Minister of Research, Science and Innovation
Minister of Housing
|The Hon. Dr. Megan Woods MP||Wigram|
|7.||Minister of Education
Minister of State Services
|The Hon. Chris Hipkins MP||Leader of the House
Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services
|8.||Minister of Justice
Minister for Courts
Minister Responsible for GCSB
Minister Responsible for NZSIS
Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
|The Hon. Andrew Little MP||Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry||List|
|9.||Minister for Social Development
Minister for Disability Issues
|The Hon. Carmel Sepuloni MP||Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples
|10.||Minister of Health||The Hon. Dr David Clark MP||Associate Minister of Finance||Dunedin North|
Minister for the Environment
Minister for Trade and Export Growth
|The Hon. David Parker MP||Associate Minister of Finance||List|
|12.||Minister for Māori Development
Minister of Local Government
|The Hon. Nanaia Mahuta MP||Associate Minister for the Environment||Hauraki-Waikato|
|13.||Minister of Police
Minister of Fisheries
Minister of Revenue
Minister for Small Business
|The Hon. Stuart Nash MP||Napier|
|14.||Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety
Minister of Immigration
Minister of ACC
|The Hon. Iain Lees-Galloway MP||Deputy Leader of the House||Palmerston North|
|15.||Minister for Building and Construction
Minister for Ethnic Communities
Minister of Customs
|The Hon. Jenny Salesa MP||Associate Minister of Education
Associate Minister of Health
|16.||Minister of Agriculture
Minister for Biosecurity
Minister for Food Safety
Minister for Rural Communities
|The Hon. Damien O'Connor MP||Associate Minister of Trade and Export Growth||West Coast-Tasman|
|17.||Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media
Minister for Government Digital Services
|The Hon. Kris Faafoi MP||Associate Minister of Immigration||Mana|
|18.||Minister of Defence
Minister for Veterans
|The Hon. Ron Mark MP||List|
|19.||Minister for Children
Minister of Internal Affairs
Minister for Seniors
|The Hon. Tracey Martin MP||Associate Minister of Education||List|
|20.||Minister of Forestry
Minister for Infrastructure
Minister for Regional Economic Development
|The Hon. Shane Jones MP||Associate Minister of Finance
Associate Minister of Transport
|Ministers outside Cabinet[n 4]|
|20.||Minister of Civil Defence
Minister for Whānau Ora
Minister for Youth
|The Hon. Peeni Henare MP||Associate Minister for Social Development
Associate Minister for ACC
|21.||Minister for Employment||The Hon. Willie Jackson MP||Associate Minister for Māori Development
Associate Minister of ACC
|22.||Minister for Pacific Peoples||The Hon. Aupito William Sio MP||Associate Minister for Courts
Associate Minister of Justice
|22.||Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector||The Hon. Poto Williams MP||Associate Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration
Associate Minister of Immigration
Associate Minister of Social Development
|Support party ministers|
|-||Minister for Climate Change
Minister of Statistics
Green Party co-leader
|The Hon. James Shaw MP||Associate Minister of Finance||List|
|-||Minister for Women||The Hon. Julie Anne Genter MP||Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister of Transport
|-||Minister of Conservation
Minister for Land Information
|The Hon. Eugenie Sage MP||Associate Minister for the Environment||List|
|-||Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Regional Economic Development
Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control
Deputy Leader of New Zealand First
|Fletcher Tabuteau MP||List|
|-||Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues)||Jan Logie MP||List|
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. There are currently 10 Cabinet committees.
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.
|Cabinet Legislation Committee (LEG)||Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee (APH)||Cabinet Business Committee (CBC)|
|Chair||Hon Chris Hipkins||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern|
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Andrew Little, Hon David Parker, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Iain Lees-Galloway, Hon Damien O'Connor, Hon Tracey Martin, Hon James Shaw, Hon Eugenie Sage, Michael Wood (Senior Government Whip)
Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Andrew Little, Hon Dr David Clark, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Jenny Salesa, Hon Tracey Martin, Hon Peeni Henare, Hon Aupito William Sio, Hon James Shaw, Hon Julie Anne Genter
Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Andrew Little, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Hon Dr David Clark, Hon Tracey Martin
|Cabinet Crown/Māori Relations Committee (CMR)||Cabinet Priorities Committee (CPC)||Cabinet Economic Development Committee (DEV)|
|Chair||Hon Kelvin Davis||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern||Hon Grant Robertson|
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Andrew Little, Hon David Parker, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Damien O'Connor, Hon Shane Jones, Hon Peeni Henare, Hon Willie Jackson, Hon Eugenie Sage
Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Andrew Little, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Hon Dr David Clark, Hon David Parker, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Tracey Martin, Hon James Shaw
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Hon David Parker, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Iain Lees-Galloway, Hon Jenny Salesa, Hon Damien O'Connor, Hon Shane Jones, Hon Kris Faafoi, Hon Willie Jackson, Hon James Shaw, Hon Eugenie Sage, Fletcher Tabuteau MP
|Cabinet Environment, Energy and Climate Committee (ENV)||Cabinet Governance Administration and Expenditure Review Committee (GOV)||Cabinet National Security and External Relations Committee (NSC)|
|Chair||Hon David Parker||Hon Grant Robertson||Rt Hon Winston Peters|
|Members||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Damien O'Connor, Hon Shane Jones, Hon James Shaw, Hon Eugenie Sage||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Dr David Clark, Hon David Parker, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Ron Mark, Hon Tracey Martin, Hon Shane Jones, Hon James Shaw, Hon Julie Anne Genter||Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Andrew Little, Hon David Parker, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Ron Mark|
|Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee (SWC)|
|Chair||Hon Carmel Sepuloni|
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Rt Hon Winston Peters, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Phil Twyford, Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Andrew Little, Hon Dr David Clark, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Hon Stuart Nash, Hon Jenny Salesa, Hon Damien O'Connor, Hon Tracey Martin, Hon Peeni Henare, Hon Willie Jackson, Hon Aupito William Sio, Hon Julie Anne Genter, Michael Wood MP, Jan Logie MP