Ministers of the New Zealand Government

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Ministers of Peter Fraser's War Cabinet, 1941
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Ministers, in the New Zealand Government, 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. Ministers collectively make up the executive branch of the New Zealand state. In practice, the governor-general is obliged to follow the advice of the prime minister on the appointment and dismissal of ministers.[1]

All ministers serve concurrently as councillors of the Executive Council of New Zealand. These executives are also formally titled "ministers of the Crown",[2] as in other Commonwealth realms.

Responsibilities and powers[edit]

The formal powers of the executive are exercised through the Executive Council, which consists of all ministers, and is headed by the governor-general. When the Executive Council resolves to issue an order, and the order is signed by the governor-general, it becomes legally binding.

A minister is generally charged with supervising a particular aspect of the government's activities ("portfolio"),[3][1] such as the provision of health services (Minister of Health) or the upkeep of law enforcement (Minister of Police). A minister is also responsible for a corresponding public sector organisation, usually known as a department or ministry.[3] Sometimes, people may be appointed ministers without being given any specific role—they are known as ministers without portfolio. Such appointments have become rare today, although sometimes a person may be appointed to a sinecure portfolio such as "Minister of State" for similar purposes.[4]

The appointment of ministers is officially made by the governor-general, who must sign a ministerial warrant before it officially comes into effect. Governors-general appoint or discharge ministers on the basis of advice from prime ministers, who are themselves appointed by the governor-general on the basis of whether they have the confidence of Parliament. The recommendations that a prime minister chooses to give are theoretically their own affair, but the political party (or parties) behind them will almost certainly have views on the matter, and most recommendations are made only after negotiation and bargaining. Different parties have different mechanisms for this—the Labour Party, for example, has provision for its parliamentary caucus to select ministers, while the process of portfolio allocation remains with the Labour prime minister.[5]

Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention that a minister is ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions (and the consequences that follow) of individuals and organisations for which they have ministerial responsibility.[1] Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of the Cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign.[6]


Originally, the Executive Council functioned as an advisory group to the Governor, and ministerial functions were performed by appointed officials, not politicians. The various "ministers" serving on the Council, such as the Colonial Secretary (Andrew Sinclair since 1844) and the Colonial Treasurer (Alexander Shepherd since 1842), reported to the Governor.[7] When Parliament was established, however, many believed that they would soon replace these appointed officials, with ministerial positions being given to members of Parliament instead. The Acting Governor, Robert Wynyard, did not agree, however, saying that the levers of government could not be turned over to Parliament without approval from Britain. The issue was controversial, and ended with the Acting Governor attempting (with only partial success) to suspend the 1st New Zealand Parliament.[8]

Later, in the 2nd New Zealand Parliament, Parliament was victorious, and the first political ministers were appointed in the 1856 Sewell Ministry. Henry Sewell became Colonial Secretary, Dillon Bell became Colonial Treasurer, Frederick Whitaker became Attorney-General, and Henry Tancred became a minister without portfolio. Since then, all ministers have been appointed from among the ranks of Parliament.[9]

Later, Parliament made further gains, with the convention being established that the governor-general's actions in the Executive Council were bound by the advice that ministers gave. Today, the Executive Council is not used for deliberation—rather, Cabinet is the forum for debate. Cabinet is a separate meeting of most (but usually not all) government ministers, and formally presents proposals to the whole Executive Council only when a decision has already been reached.[citation needed]

Prominent ministerial positions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Eichbaum, Chris. "Cabinet government - Ministers and prime ministers in cabinet". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Ministers of the Crown: Appointment, Role, and Conduct". Cabinet Manual. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Ministerial portfolios". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  4. ^ For example: "Keith Holyoake". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  5. ^ Dowding, Keith; Dumont, Patrick (2014). The Selection of Ministers around the World. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781317634454. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  6. ^ Eichbaum, Chris. "Cabinet government - Collective responsibility". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  7. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 27.
  8. ^ "General Robert Henry Wynyard". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  9. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 31.


  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.