New Zealand Cabinet

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The New Zealand Cabinet is, in practice, the highest body of the New Zealand government's executive branch. It is made up of the Prime Minister and most ordinary ministers (including associate ministers, acting ministers, and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries), and is body responsible for fundamental decision-making in the governance of New Zealand.

In theory, the Governor-General governs the country with the advice of the Executive Council, the executive branch.


Legislative basis

Cabinet is not established by any legislative act. Rather, it exists purely by convention. This convention is strong enough for Cabinet to be referenced by many official declarations and regulations, and there is a government department with explicit responsibility for supporting it (the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), but these do not constitute a direct legislative framework for its existence. The informal structure of Cabinet rests upon a formal institution known as the Executive Council. Most Ministers are members of both, but some are Executive Councillors without attending Cabinet. These are known as "ministers outside Cabinet".


The lack of formal legislation establishing Cabinet means that its powers are loosely defined. However, convention regarding its powers is quite powerful, and generally proves strong enough to bind its participants. Theoretically, each minister is independent, having been granted a ministerial warrant over a certain field by the Crown (represented by the Governor General). However, because warrants can be withdrawn on the Prime Minister's recommendation, ministers can be compelled to act within a certain framework.

The accepted forum for establishing this framework is Cabinet. Ministers will jointly discuss the policy to be pursued by the government as a whole, and any minister who does not exercise their respective powers in a manner compatible with Cabinet's decision risks losing those powers. This is known as the doctrine of collective responsibility. (Problems can arise when it is the Prime Minister who is in breach of collective responsibility, as was the case when David Lange spoke out against a Cabinet decision in favour of Roger Douglas's radical economic reforms. The Prime Minister cannot be removed in the way that ordinary ministers can, and their power is secure unless the party itself decides to act.)

Significant ministers in cabinet include the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Attorney-General.

Cabinet Committees

A Cabinet Committee is 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.

Often, Cabinet Committees will discuss matters referred to them by Cabinet itself, and then report back the results of their deliberation. This can sometimes be a powerful tool for advancing certain policies, as was demonstrated in the Lange government. Roger Douglas, Minister of Finance, and his allies were able to gain dominance of the finance committee, enabling them to determine what its recommendation to Cabinet would be. 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.

There are currently eight standing Cabinet Committees, 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 be created on a temporary basis, with the purpose of investigating an issue of relevance at the time.

Members of Cabinet at 9 June 2005

Below is a list of the eighteen current members of Cabinet, along with the portfolios and responsibilities they hold. They are listed in their official order of seniority. The official Ministerial list ( may be found on the website of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

  • Michael Cullen
    • Deputy Prime Minister
    • Finance
    • Revenue
    • Leader of the House
    • Attorney-General
  • Jim Anderton
    • Economic Development
    • Industry and Regional Development
    • Forestry
    • Public Trust
    • Health (Associate)
  • Phil Goff
    • Foreign Affairs and Trade
    • Justice
    • Pacific Island Affairs
  • Jim Sutton
    • Agriculture
    • Biosecurity
    • Trade Negotiations
    • Rural Affairs (Associate)
  • Trevor Mallard
    • Education
    • Race Relations
    • State Services
    • Energy
    • Sport and Recreation
    • Finance (Associate)
  • Pete Hodgson
    • Transport
    • Commerce
    • Land Information
    • Statistics
    • Health (Associate)
    • Industry and Regional Development (Associate)
    • Climate Change
  • Parekura Horomia
    • Maori Affairs
    • Social Development and Employment (Associate)
    • Education (Associate)
    • State Services (Associate)
    • Fisheries (Associate)
    • Youth Affairs (Associate)
  • George Hawkins
    • Police
    • Internal Affairs
    • Civil Defence
    • Veterans' Affairs
  • Mark Burton
    • Defence
    • Tourism
    • Leader of the House (Deputy)
    • Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
  • Paul Swain
    • Labour
    • Immigration
    • Corrections
    • State Owned Enterprises
    • Communications (Associate)
    • Information Technology (Associate)
  • Chris Carter
    • Conservation
    • Local Government
    • Building Affairs
    • Ethnic Affairs
  • Rick Barker
    • Courts
    • Customs
    • Community and Voluntary Sector
    • Small Business
    • Justice (Associate)
    • Social Development and Employment (Associate)
  • David Benson-Pope
    • Fisheries
    • Education Review Office (currently stood down)
    • Education (Associate) (currently stood down)
    • Environment (Associate, with responsibility for the Resource Management Act)

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