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|Government of New Zealand|
|Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa|
|Established||1856 (first responsible government)|
|Responsible to||House of Representatives|
Molesworth Street, Wellington
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The Government of New Zealand (Māori: Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa), or New Zealand Government (ceremonially referred to as Her Majesty's Government in New Zealand on the Seal of New Zealand), is the administrative complex through which authority is exercised in New Zealand. As in most parliamentary democracies, the term "Government" refers chiefly to the executive branch, and more specifically to the collective ministry directing the executive (as in British usage, but where Americans would use "administration"). Based on the principle of responsible government, it operates within the framework that "the Queen reigns, but the government rules, so long as it has the support of the House of Representatives".
Executive power is chiefly exercised by ministers, all of whom are sworn into the Executive Council and accountable to the elected legislature, the House of Representatives. Several senior ministers (usually around 20) constitute a collective decision-making body known as the Cabinet, which is led by the Prime Minister (currently Jacinda Ardern). A few more ministers (usually junior or supporting) are part of the Executive Council but outside Cabinet. Most ministers have a portfolio of specific responsibilities such as departments or policy areas, although ministers without portfolio are sometimes appointed.
The position of prime minister belongs to the person who commands the support of a majority of members in the House of Representatives. In practice, the position is determined also by several other factors, such as support agreements between parties and internal leadership votes in the party that leads the Government. The prime minister and other ministers are formally appointed by the governor-general (who is the Queen's viceregal representative in New Zealand). In practice, the governor-general acts on the advice of the prime minister in appointing ministers.
The term Government of New Zealand can have a number of different meanings. At its widest, it can refer collectively to the three traditional branches of government—the executive branch, legislative branch (the Queen-in-Parliament and House of Representatives) and judicial branch (the Supreme Court and subordinate courts). Each branch operates independently of the others in an arrangement described as "separation of powers".
More commonly, the term is used to refer to the members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to a particular political party (or coalition of parties) with a large number of seats sufficient to win important votes (e.g. the vote to accept the budget each year). The largest party or coalition will form a Cabinet—this is the sense intended when it is said that a political party "forms the government". The Constitution Act 1986, the principle part of New Zealand's constitution, locates the executive government in the Executive Council, which may include ministers outside Cabinet.
The executive wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, commonly called the "Beehive" because of the building's shape, houses many government offices and is also where the Cabinet meets. Thus the name Beehive is sometimes used metonymically to refer to the New Zealand Government.
New Zealand was granted colonial self-government in 1853 following the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, which was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Governments were set up at both central and provincial level, with initially six provinces. The provinces were abolished by the Abolition of Provinces Act 1876, during the premiership of Harry Atkinson. For the purposes of the Act, the provinces formally ceased to exist on 1 January 1877.
The Sewell Ministry constituted the first responsible government, with control over all domestic matters other than native policy. Formed in 1856, it lasted from 18 April to 20 May. From 7 May onwards, Henry Sewell was titled "Colonial Secretary", and is generally regarded as having been the country's first Prime Minister. The first Ministry that formed along party lines did not appear until 1891, when John Ballance formed the Liberal Party and the Liberal Government. The status of the monarch's representative was upgraded from governor to "Governor-General" in 1917 letters patent.
The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state of New Zealand. The monarch is considered to be the personification of "the Crown"—a legal term that refers to the state as a whole. The Crown is therefore regarded as a corporation sole, with the monarch, vested as she is with all powers of state, at the centre of a construct in which the power of the whole is shared by multiple institutions of government acting under the monarch's authority. Sovereignty in New Zealand has never rested solely with the monarch due to the English Bill of Rights 1689, later inherited by New Zealand, which establishes the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Constitution Act 1986 describes the monarch as the "Sovereign" of New Zealand.
Royal Assent is required to enact laws and, as part of the royal prerogative, the royal sign-manual gives authority to letters patent and orders in council, though the authority for these acts stems from the New Zealand populace and, within the conventional stipulations of constitutional monarchy, the Sovereign's direct participation in any of these areas of governance is limited. The royal prerogative also includes summoning, proroguing, and dissolving parliament in order to call an election, and extends to foreign affairs: the negotiation and ratification of treaties, alliances, international agreements, and declarations of war.
The Sovereign rarely personally exercises her executive powers; since the monarch does not normally reside in New Zealand, she appoints a governor-general to represent her and exercise most of her powers. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the Prime Minister. "Advice" in this sense is a choice generally without options since it would be highly unconventional for the Prime Minister's advice to be overlooked; a convention that protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is following the advice of her ministers, she is not held personally responsible for the decisions of the Government. The Governor-General has no official term limit, and is said to serve "at Her Majesty's pleasure".
The Sovereign or Governor-General rarely intervene directly in political affairs. Just as the Sovereign's choice of governor-general is on the Prime Ministers advice, the viceregal figure exercises the executive powers of state on the advice of ministers. For example, the Governor-General's power to withhold the Royal Assent to Bills has been rendered ineffective by convention.
Under the conventions of the Westminster system, governments are responsible to the House of Representatives (parliament) rather than to the monarch. For example, ministers make statements in the House and take questions from other members of the House. The Government is required by convention and for practical reasons to maintain the support, or confidence, of the House of Representatives. It requires the support of the House for the maintenance of supply (by voting through the government's budgets) and in order to pass primary legislation. By convention, if a government loses the confidence of the House then it must either resign or a general election is held.
Also known as "ministers of the Crown", these are members of Parliament who hold ministerial warrants from the Crown to perform certain functions of government. This includes formulating and implementing policies and advising the Governor-General. Before 1996 nearly all ministers were members of the Cabinet, but since the introduction of proportional representation, which has led to complex governing arrangements, there are currently three categories of minister: ministers in the Cabinet, ministers outside Cabinet, and ministers from supporting parties.
The Executive Council is a formal body which exists and meets to give legal effect to decisions made by the Cabinet, and to carry out various other functions. All ministers are members of the Executive Council and are entitled to be styled "The Honourable" for life, except for the Prime Minister, who is styled "The Right Honourable", a privilege they retain for life. Although not a member of the Executive Council, the Governor-General usually presides at Council meetings.
Cabinet is the senior collective decision-making body of the Government. Constitutional law, such as the Constitution Act 1986, does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity; it exists solely by constitutional convention. Its decisions do not in and of themselves have legal force. However, it serves as the practical expression of the Executive Council, which is New Zealand's highest formal governmental body.
The Prime Minister, the head of government, is responsible for chairing meetings of Cabinet. The Governor-General will appoint as prime minister the person most likely to receive the confidence of the House of Representatives to lead the Government. In practice, the appointment is determined by size of each political party, support agreements between parties, and leadership votes in the party that leads the Government.
Other ministers are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Each minister is responsible for the general administration of at least one government portfolio and heads a corresponding department or ministry. The most important minister, following the Prime Minister, is the Minister of Finance, while other high-profile ministries include foreign affairs, justice, health and education. Ministers outside the Cabinet have the same overall duties and responsibilities as their senior colleagues inside Cabinet. Departments and ministries are staffed by around 45,000 civil servants.
The legislative agenda of Parliament is determined by the Cabinet. At the start of each new parliamentary term, the Governor-General gives an address prepared by the Cabinet that outlines the Government's policy and legislative proposals.
There have been three distinctly different periods of New Zealand government—firstly, the period before responsible government; second, from 1856 to 1890, the period of responsible government; and the third period started with the formation of political parties in 1891.
By convention, a distinct government is named for the largest party that leads it. The current government, since October 2017, is the Sixth Labour Government. It is a coalition between Labour and New Zealand First, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The minority government is reliant on the support of the Green Party in order to command a majority in the House of Representatives through a confidence and supply agreement.
The watershed election of 1890 put the Liberals, who were to become New Zealand’s first ‘modern’ political party, into power.