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Roles and Functions

Introduction to the Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office is part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), and is located on the 10th floor of the Beehive.

Cabinet Office supports central government decision making processes in the following primary ways:

  • Providing impartial secretariat services to the Executive Council, Cabinet and Cabinet committees;
  • Providing advice to the Governor-General, Prime Minister and other ministers on certain constitutional, policy and procedural issues (especially those contained in the Cabinet Manual);
  • Assisting in the coordination of the government’s legislation programme;
  • Administering the New Zealand Royal Honours System; and
  • Acting as a channel of communication between the Governor-General and government, and being responsible for the overall policy and administration of Government House.

Other key functions of the Cabinet Office are:

Cabinet Office is headed by the Secretary of the Cabinet, who is also Clerk of the Executive Council. The two positions have distinct roles and responsibilities but are closely related in their functions of providing impartial support to government. The role of Secretary of the Cabinet is primarily to provide support to Cabinet and its committees. The role of Clerk of the Executive Council is to provide support to the Governor-General and Executive Council.

The Office has a staff of 27 (FTE: 24.5), including secretariat staff, legal and policy advisors, honours secretariat staff and registry/support staff.


Advisory Role

Cabinet Office provides policy advice to the Governor-General, Prime Minister, and at the Prime Minister’s direction, to other ministers and government departments on certain constitutional, policy and procedural issues relating to the centre of government, including:

  • Policy and procedural aspects of relationships between the Executive, Governor-General and Parliament;
  • The appointment of ministers;
  • The administration of Cabinet and its committees; and
  • The making of statutory appointments.


Secretariat Services

Ministers put submissions to Cabinet on a range of important issues – for example, new policy initiatives, the introduction of government legislation, financial appropriations and key appointments.

Cabinet Office receives and processes submissions to Cabinet and Cabinet committees. The Office has a quality assurance role in checking that submissions meet the requirements established by Cabinet set out in the Cabinet Manual and the CabGuide. These requirements are intended to ensure that proposals have been fully consulted and papers are well presented.

Cabinet Office prepares summaries of submissions as quick reference guides for ministers, who have a heavy workload and need to be able to access key issues and the main proposals of submissions quickly and efficiently.

Cabinet Office manages and prepares agendas for Cabinet and its committees, organises meeting schedules, distributes meeting papers, produces and distributes minutes of the meetings and maintains the official records of Cabinet and its committees.

Secretary of Cabinet and Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet attend Cabinet meetings to record the decisions taken. Cabinet committee secretaries provide secretariat support to committee meetings.


Elections, Transitions and Government Formation

A general election is, above all, a political event. However, administrative and constitutional issues arise during every election that require public service support. Cabinet Office provides policy advice, constitutional advice and administrative support to the government (including any caretaker government) over the election and government formation period. Cabinet Office also provides guidance on the conduct of government business to the public service during the election period.

Secretary of the Cabinet, as Clerk of the Executive Council, provides a politically neutral link between a caretaker government, political party leaders and Governor-General during the government formation period. The Clerk provides to the Prime Minister and Governor-General neutral support and advice on maintaining continuity of government, as required.

Chapter 6 of the Cabinet Manual 2008 explains how transitions between administrations occur. It sets out relevant principles and procedures, including government activity in the pre-election period, the operation of the caretaker convention, government formation, provision of information by the public service to negotiating parties, briefings for incoming ministers, and the law and procedures concerning incoming and outgoing ministers.


Change of Government

When the government changes, the Secretary of the Cabinet assists the incoming Prime Minister to establish the processes of the new government. The Secretary also advises an incoming Prime Minister, as required, on the structure and organisation of Cabinet and its committees and the allocation of ministerial portfolios.