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Ministers in the New Zealand Government are members of Parliament (MPs) 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. The governor-general is obliged to follow the advice of the prime minister on the appointment and dismissal of ministers.
Most ministers sit in Cabinet and all, including non-Cabinet ministers, serve concurrently as councillors of the Executive Council of New Zealand. These executives are also formally titled "ministers of the Crown", as in other Commonwealth realms.
"Minister of the Crown" is the formal title used in Commonwealth realms to describe a minister of the reigning sovereign or governor-general. "The Crown" vaguely refers to both the sovereign and the state. In New Zealand, an adviser to the sovereign or governor-general is also referred to simply by the term minister, but the formal title is used in the New Zealand Cabinet Manual.
Appointment and dismissal
"I, [name], being chosen and admitted of the Executive Council of New Zealand, swear that I will to the best of my judgement, at all times, when thereto required, freely give my counsel and advice to the Governor-General for the time being, for the good management of the affairs of New Zealand. That I will not directly nor indirectly reveal such matters as shall be debated in Council and committed to my secrecy, but that I will in all things be a true and faithful Councillor. So help me God".
Executive councillor's oath
The appointment of an MP as a minister is formally made by the governor-general, who must sign a ministerial warrant before it officially comes into effect. The governor-general appoints the prime minister (head of government) on the basis of whether they are able to command the confidence of Parliament. The prime minister will advise the governor-general on the appointment or dismissal of other ministers. The first appointments are made whenever a new government takes office, and thereafter whenever a vacancy arises (due to a minister being dismissed or resigning). Each minister takes an oath (or affirmation) of office.[note 2]
The recommendations that the 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 National Party allows the prime minister to select ministers at their discretion.
Responsibilities and powers
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.
At the same time as they are appointed to the Executive Council, a minister is generally charged with supervising a particular aspect of the government's activities, known as a "portfolio", such as the provision of health services (minister of health) or the upkeep of law enforcement (minister of police). A minister with portfolio is also responsible for a corresponding public sector organisation, usually known as a department or ministry.
A warrant from the Crown is a formal written authority that is granted by the governor-general to a minister. The warrant sets out the minister's responsibilities, powers, and duties within their portfolio. It is essentially a legal document that gives a minister the authority to carry out their duties, and is necessary for them to be able to exercise the powers and functions of their portfolio.
Ministers without portfolio are MPs appointed as minister without a specific role. Such appointments have become rare today, although sometimes an MP may be appointed to a sinecure portfolio such as "minister of state" for similar purposes.
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. Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of Cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign.
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 from 1844) and the Colonial Treasurer (Alexander Shepherd from 1842), reported to the Governor. 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 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The issue was controversial, and ended with the Acting Governor attempting (with only partial success) to suspend the 1st New Zealand Parliament.
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.
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.
The prime minister ranks the Cabinet ministers to determine seniority, or the "pecking order". This ranking depends on factors such as length of service, the relative prominence of a portfolio, and "personal standing with the prime minister". Lists of ministers are often ordered according to each individual minister's ranking.
Prominent ministerial positions
- Prime Minister
- Deputy Prime Minister
- Minister of Agriculture
- Minister of Conservation
- Minister of Defence
- Minister of Education
- Minister of Finance
- Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Minister of Health
- Minister of Internal Affairs
- Minister of Justice
- Minister for Māori Development
- Minister of Social Development
- Minister of Transport
List of current portfolios
- Showing from left to right: Adam Hamilton; Walter Nash, Minister of Finance; British politician Duff Cooper; Prime Minister Peter Fraser; Dan Sullivan, Minister of Supply; Fred Jones, Minister of Defence; Gordon Coates, Minister of Armed Forces and War Co-ordination.
- Historically most ministers swore an oath on the Bible, but now many choose to affirm their intent, without reference to God.
- In the front row are (left to right): Alfred Ransom, Gordon Coates, Prime Minister George Forbes, William Downie Stewart Sr, Āpirana Ngata, and Alexander Young. In the back row are (left to right): David Jones, John Cobbe, Adam Hamilton, and Robert Masters.
- Jackson, D. Michael (2013). The Crown and Canadian Federalism. ISBN 978-1-4597-0989-8.
- "Ministers of the Crown: Appointment, Role, and Conduct". Cabinet Manual. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 24 June 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- Eichbaum, Chris. "Cabinet government – What is cabinet?". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
- Eichbaum, Chris. "Cabinet government – Ministers and prime ministers in cabinet". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- Young, Audrey (30 June 2000). "Only two choose to swear on 'Bible'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
- Dowding, Keith; Dumont, Patrick (2014). The Selection of Ministers around the World. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781317634454. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
- "Sovereign, Governor-General, and Executive Council: Meetings of the Executive Council". Cabinet Manual. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 23 June 2017.
- "Ministerial portfolios". The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- "Ministers". Cabinet Manual. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 17 February 2023.
- For example: "Keith Holyoake". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- Eichbaum, Chris. "Cabinet government – Collective responsibility". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- Scholefield 1950, p. 27.
- "General Robert Henry Wynyard". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
- Scholefield 1950, p. 31.
- Hennessy, Peter (2000). The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders Since 1945. Penguin Group. p. 63. ISBN 0713993405.
- "Ministerial List" (PDF). Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 2 November 2020. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
- "Portfolios". Beehive.govt.nz. New Zealand Government. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
- Scholefield, Guy (1950) [1st ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Govt. Printer.