The Executive Council is the highest formal instrument of government. It is the part of the executive branch of government that carries out formal acts of government.
By convention, the Executive Council comprises all Ministers of the Crown, whether those Ministers are inside or outside Cabinet. The Governor-General presides over, but is not a member of, the Executive Council. When a new Cabinet is sworn in, Ministers are first appointed as Executive Councillors and then receive warrants for their respective Ministerial portfolios.
The principal function of the Executive Council is to advise the Governor-General to make Orders in Council that are required to give effect to the Government’s decisions. Apart from Acts of parliament, Orders in Council are the main method by which the government implements decisions that need legal force. The Executive Council also meets from time to time to carry out formal acts of state.
The Executive Council generally meets every Monday. At the meetings, the Executive Council gives formal advice to the Governor-General to sign Orders in Council (to make, for example, regulations or appointments). The meetings also provide an opportunity for Ministers to brief the Governor-General on significant political and constitutional issues that may have arisen during the week.
Clerk of the Executive Council
The Clerk of the Executive Council (who is also the Secretary of the Cabinet) is directly responsible to the Governor-General and to the Prime Minister for servicing the Executive Council and providing advice, as necessary, on constitutional matters.
The key functions of the Clerk of the Executive Council are:
- Advising on matters affecting the role of the Governor-General;
- Providing, coordinating and monitoring official support and advice to, and consultation with, the Governor-General;
- Facilitating, on behalf of the Governor-General, the constitutional processes of government that involve the Governor-General (particularly those associated with the transition between administrations);
- Attending every meeting of the Executive Council in order to witness its proceedings and keep its records;
- Countersigning any proclamation, Order in Council or other instrument made or issued by the Governor-General alone or by the Governor-General in Council;
- Being responsible for the New Zealand Royal Honours System.
- The Clerk of the Executive Council may delegate any of the functions of the Office.
The Governor-General’s website provides further information on the role and functions of the Governor-General, and Government House.
You can read more about the Executive Council in Chapter 1 of the Cabinet Manual.