Like other democracies based on the British model, New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements fuse the executive and legislative branches of government. Cabinet joins these two branches of government together. It has a series of executive roles and functions which are distinct from those of the legislature (Parliament). Its members are, however, drawn from the party or parties that have the confidence of the legislature.
Matters that cabinet must consider
Matters that must be submitted to cabinet are:
- All significant policy issues and controversial matters. What is considered significant and controversial is a matter of political judgment, which in the final instance is decided by the prime minister. The general rule is that ministers should put before their colleagues the sorts of issues on which they themselves would wish to be consulted.
- Any proposals that will affect the government’s financial position. Budget decisions are among the most important of these, and although the minister of finance has responsibility for the executive phase of the budget process, key decisions are taken by the full cabinet.
- Proposals that affect New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.
- Matters concerning the machinery of government (the public service), especially any proposals for changing the structure of the public service.
- Proposals involving new legislation or regulations. All draft government bills must be submitted to the Cabinet Legislation Committee before they are approved for introduction into Parliament.
- Government responses to select committee recommendations. Reports on petitions to select committees, or recommendations arising out of inquiries initiated by committees, may require a government response. If so, this will come from cabinet.
- Matters concerning the portfolio interests of ministers. Some of these policy issues fall cleanly within the portfolio domain of a particular minister, but most do not. Agreement between ministers is generally reached before a matter reaches cabinet. However, occasionally it is not, and policy discussion papers will include ‘split recommendations’ (in which ministers, and their departments and agencies, express different policy preferences). In cases like these cabinet must resolve the matter.
- All but the most minor appointments to statutory boards and other government bodies. Most governments have a cabinet committee that is responsible for honours and appointments.
- International treaties and agreements. Any proposal to sign an international treaty, or to take binding treaty action, must be submitted to cabinet for approval.
- The release of public discussion documents, or reports affecting government policy or government agencies.