New Zealand Cabinet

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.

Table of contents
1 Legislative basis
2 Powers
3 Cabinet Committees
4 Current members of Cabinet

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 However, because warrants can be withdrawn on the Prime Minister's recommendation, ministers can be compelled to act within a certain framework.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.

Current members of Cabinet

Below is a list of the twenty current members of Cabinet, along with the portfolios or entities they are responsible for supervising. They are listed in their official order of seniority.

  • Helen Clark
    • Prime Minister
    • Arts, Culture, and Heritage
    • Security Intelligence Service
    • Government Communications Security Bureau
    • Ministerial Services

  • Michael Cullen
    • Deputy Prime Minister
    • Finance
    • Revenue
    • Leader of the House

  • Jim Anderton
    • Economic Development
    • Industry and Regional Development
    • Public Trust
    • Health (Associate)

  • Steve Maharey
    • Social Development and Employment
    • Housing
    • Broadcasting
    • Education (Associate, with responsibility for tertiary education)
    • Tertiary Education Commission

  • Phil Goff
    • Foreign Affairs and Trade
    • Justice
    • Pacific Island Affairs

  • Annette King
    • Health
    • Food Safety

  • Jim Sutton
    • Agriculture
    • Biosecurity
    • Forestry
    • Trade Negotiations
    • Rural Affairs

  • Trevor Mallard
    • Ecucation
    • State Services
    • Sport and Recreation
    • Education Review Office
    • Finance (Associate)
    • Adult and Community Education

  • Pete Hodgson
    • Energy
    • Fisheries
    • Research, Science, and Technology
    • Crown Research Institutes
    • Industry and Regional Development (Associate)
    • Foreign Affairs and Trade (Associate)
    • Climate Change

  • Margaret Wilson
    • Attorney-General
    • Labour
    • Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
    • Justice (Associate)
    • Courts (Associate)

  • Parekura Horomia
    • Maori Affairs
    • Social Development and Employment (Associate)
    • Education (Associate)
    • Fisheries (Associate)
    • Forestry (Associate)

  • Lianne Dalziel
    • Commerce
    • Immigration
    • Law Commission
    • Justice (Associate)
    • Education (Associate, with responsibility for special education)

  • George Hawkins
    • Police
    • Internal Affairs
    • Civil Defence
    • Veterans' Affairs

  • Mark Burton
    • Defence
    • State Owned Enterprises
    • Tourism
    • Leader of the House (Deputy)

  • Paul Swain
    • Transport
    • Communications
    • Corrections
    • Information Technology
    • Economic Development (Associate)

  • Marian Hobbs
    • Environment
    • Disarmament and Arms Control
    • Archives New Zealand
    • National Library
    • Biosecurity (Associate)
    • Education (Associate)
    • Foreign Affairs and Trade (Associate, with responsibility for foreign aid)
    • Urban Affairs

  • Ruth Dyson
    • Accident Compensation Corporation
    • Senior Citizens
    • Women's Affairs
    • Disability Issues
    • Health (Associate)
    • Social Development and Employment (Associate, with responsibility for child welfare)

  • John Tamihere
    • Youth Affairs
    • Land Information
    • Statistics
    • Small Business
    • Maori Affairs (Associate)
    • Commerce (Associate)

  • Chris Carter
    • Conservation
    • Local Government
    • Ethnic Affairs

  • Rick Barker
    • Courts
    • Customs
    • Justice (Associate)
    • Social Development and Employment (Associate)

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