Government of New Zealand

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Government of New Zealand
Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa
Wordmark used on the New Zealand Government website
Website wordmark
Established 1856 (responsible government)
State New Zealand
Leader Prime Minister
Appointed by Governor-General
Main organ Cabinet
Responsible to House of Representatives
Headquarters The Beehive,
Molesworth Street, Wellington
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
New Zealand

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[1]) 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,[2] 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".[3]

Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers, all of whom are sworn into the Executive Council to become ministers of the Crown and responsible to the elected legislature, the House of Representatives.[4] The position of Prime Minister, New Zealand's head of government, belongs to the person who commands the support of a majority of members in the House of Representatives. In practice, the Prime Minister is determined by size of each political party, support agreements between parties and leadership votes in the party that leads the Government.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are formally appointed by the Governor-General (who is the Queen's viceregal representative in New Zealand).[4] In practice, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister in appointing ministers. Cabinet ministers are drawn from elected members of the Prime Minister's party in the House of Representatives. 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 Beehive, Wellington, is the seat of government (the executive branch)

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).[5] Each branch operates independently of the others in an arrangement described as "separation of powers".[6]

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".[7][8] The Constitution Act 1986, the principle part of New Zealand's constitution, locates the executive government in the Executive Council,[4] which may include ministers outside Cabinet.[9]

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.[10] Thus the name Beehive is sometimes used metonymically to refer to the New Zealand Government.[11]


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.[12] 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.[13]

The Sewell Ministry constituted the first responsible government, with control over all domestic matters other than native policy.[12] 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.[14] The first Ministry that formed along party lines did not appear until 1891, when John Ballance formed the Liberal Party and the Liberal Government.[15][16] The status of the monarch's representative was upgraded from governor to "Governor-General" in 1917 letters patent.[12][17]

Government and the Crown

Elizabeth II and the New Zealand Cabinet, taken during the Queen's 1981 tour of the country.

The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state of New Zealand.[4] The monarch is considered to be the personification of "the Crown"—a legal term that refers to the state as a whole.[6][18] The Crown is therefore regarded as a corporation sole,[19][20] 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.[21][22] 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.[23] Nonetheless, the Constitution Act 1986 describes the monarch as the "Sovereign" of New Zealand.[4]

The royal sign-manual of Elizabeth II

Royal Assent is required to enact laws and,[24] 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,[25] within the conventional stipulations of constitutional monarchy, the Sovereign's direct participation in any of these areas of governance is limited.[21] 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.[26][27]

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.[28] The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the Prime Minister.[28] "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".[29]

The Sovereign or Governor-General rarely intervene directly in political affairs.[28] 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.[4] For example, the Governor-General's power to withhold the Royal Assent to Bills has been rendered ineffective by convention.[26]


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.[30] 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.[31]

Executive Council

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,[32] except for the Prime Minister and former prime ministers, who are styled "The Right Honourable".[33] Although they are not a member of the Executive Council, the Governor-General usually presides at Council meetings.[34]


The ministers of the Sixth Labour Government, with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, 26 October 2017

Cabinet is the senior collective decision-making body of the New Zealand Government.[35][36] Constitutional law, such as the Constitution Act 1986, does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity; it exists solely by convention.[37] 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.[30]

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, but to ensure the continuity of a stable government, this person must have the confidence of the House of Representatives to lead the Government. In practice, the position usually goes to the leader of the largest political party in Parliament.[38] Major responsibilities of the Prime Minister include appointing ministers and chairing weekly meetings of Cabinet.[38]

Each minister is responsible for the general administration of at least one government portfolio and heads a corresponding department or ministry.[36] 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.[36] Departments and ministries are staffed by around 45,000 civil servants.[39]

As New Zealand follows the Westminster system of government, 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.[40]

List of governments

There have been fifteen governments (administrations) of New Zealand.[41][42] By convention, a government is named for the largest party that leads it.[43][44]

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.[42] 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.[42][45]

See also


  1. ^ "Seal of New Zealand Act 1977". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  2. ^ "How government works". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 7 December 2016. 
  3. ^ Sir Kenneth Keith, quoted in the Cabinet Manual Archived 9 October 1999 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Constitution Act 1986 No 114 (as at 17 May 2005), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 7 December 2016. 
  5. ^ "Our system of government". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  6. ^ a b "Glossary of Constitutional Terms". New Zealand Constitutional Advisory Panel. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  7. ^ "New Zealand's Central Government | New Zealand Now". New Zealand Now. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  8. ^ "So who gets to become the Government?" (PDF). Electoral Commission New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  9. ^ "Ministerial List". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "The Beehive - Executive Wing". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  11. ^ "the definition of beehive". Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c "Political and constitutional timeline". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 4 November 2016. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  13. ^ "Provinces 1848–77". Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  14. ^ McIntyre, W. David. "Sewell, Henry", from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  15. ^ "Responsible government". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 14 July 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  16. ^ Wilson, John (8 February 2005). "History - Liberal to Labour". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017. The watershed election of 1890 put the Liberals, who were to become New Zealand’s first ‘modern’ political party, into power. 
  17. ^ "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand (SR 1983/225) (as at 22 August 2006)". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  18. ^ Boyce, Peter John. The Queen's Other Realms: The Crown and Its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Federation Press. p. 2008. ISBN 9781862877009. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  19. ^ Colin Turpin and Adam Tomkins (2007). British Government and the Constitution: Text and Materials. Cambridge University Press. p. 348. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  20. ^ Maitland, Frederic (1901), "The Crown as Corporation", Law Quarterly Review (17): 131–46, retrieved 30 April 2017 
  21. ^ a b "The Queen's constitutional and public ceremonial roles". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 11 July 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  22. ^ Tidridge, Nathan (2011), Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government, Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 17, ISBN 9781459700840  [applicable to all Commonwealth realms]
  23. ^ "Parliament Brief: What is Parliament?". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  24. ^ "The Royal Assent". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  25. ^ "On the Constitution of New Zealand: An Introduction to the Foundations of the Current Form of Government". Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  26. ^ a b "The New Zealand Constitution". New Zealand Parliament. 3 October 2005. pp. 4–5. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  27. ^ "Q&A: Royal Prerogative". BBC News. 15 February 2005. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  28. ^ a b c "The Role of the Governor-General". The Governor-General of New Zealand Te Kawana Tianara o Aotearoa. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  29. ^ "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  30. ^ a b "Executive Council". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  31. ^ Eichbaum, Chris (20 June 2012). "Cabinet government - Ministers and prime ministers in cabinet". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  32. ^ "'The Honourable'". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  33. ^ "'The Right Honourable'". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  34. ^ "Executive Council - Cabinet Manual". 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  35. ^ McLeay, Elizabeth (1995). The Cabinet and Political Power in New Zealand, Volume 5. Oxford University Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780195583120. 
  36. ^ a b c Eichbaum, Chris (20 June 2012). "Cabinet government - What is cabinet?". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  37. ^ "On the Constitution of New Zealand: An Introduction to the Foundations of the Current Form of Government - Cabinet Manual". 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  38. ^ a b McLean, Gavin (13 December 2016). "Premiers and prime ministers". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  39. ^ "Civil servant numbers static". 4 December 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  40. ^ "Speech from the Throne - Cabinet Manual". 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  41. ^ "List of Governments of New Zealand - The Grid - FInd Anything in New Zealand". The Grid. 17 February 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2018. 
  42. ^ a b c Hickey, Bernard (20 October 2017). "It's the Sixth Labour Government". Newsroom. Retrieved 12 May 2018. 
  43. ^ Boston, Jonathan; Holland, Martin (1990). The Fourth Labour Government: Politics and Policy in New Zealand. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195582130. 
  44. ^ Garfield, Norton Fausto (2012). Fifth National Government of New Zealand. Anim Publishing. ISBN 9786138498315. 
  45. ^ "Green Party ratifies confidence and supply deal with Labour". New Zealand Herald. 19 October 2017. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 

Further reading

  • Palmer, Geoffrey; Palmer, Matthew (2004). Bridled Power: New Zealand's constitution and government (4th ed.). South Melbourne, Vic. [u.a.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-58463-9. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet -
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