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Cabinet and Cabinet committee procedures

Preparing and submitting Cabinet papers

5.39 Papers are submitted to Cabinet committees and Cabinet to enable Ministers to make collective decisions based on sound information and analysis. Good papers reflect robust policy development and consultation processes, are informed by evidence and insights from diverse perspectives, and are analytically sound. They are succinct yet sufficiently comprehensive to provide Ministers with all the information they need to reach an informed decision. See the CabGuide for further information on the qualities of good policy advice and papers.

5.40 Papers classified up to Sensitive or Restricted are submitted through the CabNet system, which is a secure electronic system for managing papers through the Cabinet and Cabinet committee process. CabNet is administered by the Cabinet Office, and access to CabNet material is limited to authorised users in Ministers’ offices and departments in accordance with specified access permissions. More highly classified papers or papers with Special Handling Required or Addressee Only endorsements are submitted in hard copy to the Cabinet Office, and are not handled or stored in CabNet (see the CabGuide for further information on CabNet).

5.41Ministers submit papers to Cabinet or Cabinet committees on issues concerning their own portfolios. All papers submitted through CabNet must be authorised for lodgement by the relevant portfolio Minister. Where a paper is submitted outside CabNet, the portfolio Minister's signature on the hard copy of the paper is required. If necessary, however, any Minister (including a Minister outside Cabinet but not a Parliamentary Under-Secretary) can sign a Cabinet or Cabinet committee paper on behalf of another. Ministers are responsible for the papers they submit to Cabinet and Cabinet committees and are expected to be fully conversant with them.

5.42Associate Ministers may submit papers to Cabinet and Cabinet committees within their designated area of responsibility, provided that the submission clearly indicates that the portfolio Minister has been consulted and agrees that the paper may be lodged. This requirement may not apply if responsibility for the matter has been transferred to an Associate Minister because of a conflict of interest (see paragraph 2.74(c)).

5.43The Cabinet Office sets standards for the quality, preparation, and submission of papers for Cabinet and Cabinet committees. These standards are set out in the CabGuide.

Deadlines and late papers

5.44 Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers must be lodged on CabNet, or submitted to the Cabinet Office as appropriate (see paragraph 5.40), before the relevant deadline, which is usually several days before a meeting. See the CabGuide for the current deadlines. Submitting papers on time ensures that Ministers have sufficient time to read and seek advice on papers, and to discuss them with colleagues if necessary.

5.45If a Minister wishes to submit a late paper for Cabinet or a Cabinet committee, the Minister concerned should, by the deadline for the submission of the paper, seek the approval of the chair, through the Secretary of the Cabinet or the appropriate committee secretary, for acceptance of the paper, explaining why inclusion on the agenda is necessary (using the appropriate form set out in the CabGuide). The Secretary of the Cabinet or committee secretary will consult the Prime Minister or the chair of the committee, and advise the Minister of the outcome.

Amendments to papers

5.46 Amendments to Cabinet or Cabinet committee papers already lodged on CabNet or with the Cabinet Office, as appropriate, will not be accepted unless the change is of a minor editorial nature. If a Minister wishes to make substantive amendments to a paper he or she has already submitted, the usual practice is to withdraw the original paper and submit a new one.

5.47The Cabinet Office will not accept changes suggested by one Minister to another Minister's paper before a meeting. The Minister should suggest any proposed changes at the meeting considering the paper.

Withdrawal of papers

5.48 Once the Cabinet Office has published a final agenda on CabNet, a paper can be withdrawn or deferred only at the meeting for which it was prepared. The Minister who authorised the paper for lodgement should provide notice of withdrawal as soon as possible, so that the chair can be informed.


5.49The Cabinet Office compiles the agendas for Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the chairs of committees.

5.50The Secretary of the Cabinet is required to ensure that the agenda for Cabinet itself contains only items that have already been considered by a Cabinet committee, unless there are exceptional circumstances. As a rule, only proposals requiring urgent consideration or papers proposing or reporting on overseas travel should be considered by Cabinet without first being considered by a committee. If a Minister wishes to submit a paper directly to Cabinet, the prior agreement of the Prime Minister must be obtained.

Oral items

5.51 In cases of particular urgency or confidentiality, or to update Cabinet on a current issue, or to test preliminary support for a proposal, a Minister may wish to raise an oral item at a Cabinet or Cabinet committee meeting. Oral items for Cabinet will be accepted only with the approval of the Prime Minister, and should be notified to the Secretary of the Cabinet. Oral items at Cabinet committees will be accepted only with the approval of the committee chair.

5.52 Oral items at Cabinet are also the means by which Cabinet’s agreement is sought for a Cabinet committee (or specified group of Ministers) to have power to act on a particular item (see paragraph 5.9).

5.53 Detailed guidance about the requirements for oral items, including the electronic form to be used for seeking the Prime Minister’s approval to raise an oral item at Cabinet, can be found in the CabGuide .


5.54 The Cabinet Office publishes on CabNet, and where required distributes in hard copy, minutes of Cabinet and Cabinet committee decisions as soon as possible after each meeting, recording the decisions in a form that allows the necessary action to be taken. The minutes do not record the detail of discussions at the meeting.

5.55Further information on authorised access to minutes on CabNet can be found in the CabGuide.


5.56 Cabinet usually meets in the Cabinet room on Mondays for most weeks of the year. Special Cabinet meetings may be held at other times and other places, if necessary.

5.57Cabinet committees meet on a weekly or fortnightly basis or as necessary. Ad hoc committees meet as necessary. The Cabinet Office provides information about Cabinet committee meeting times to Ministers' offices and the public service.

Chairs of meetings

5.58 Meetings of Cabinet are chaired by the Prime Minister (or the next most senior Minister present, if the Prime Minister is absent). Cabinet committees are chaired by the designated chair (or, in the chair's absence, the most senior committee member present).

Attendance of Ministers

5.59 Ministers in Cabinet must attend every meeting of Cabinet, unless the Prime Minister has granted prior written approval on the required form, which is available on the ministerial intranet.

5.60Ministers are expected to attend all meetings of the Cabinet committees of which they are members. If Ministers (including those who are not members of the committee but have papers on an agenda) are unable to attend, their senior private secretaries must advise the committee secretary before the meeting. This process allows the chair to be advised, and necessary adjustments to be made to the agenda.

5.61A Minister who is unable to attend a Cabinet committee meeting may wish to brief another Minister (or his or her Associate Minister) to speak to a paper, or to ask for it to be deferred in his or her absence. Ministers who are members of select committees are expected to give priority to attendance at select committee meetings over attendance at Cabinet committee meetings.

5.62When a Cabinet committee is to discuss a matter within the portfolio responsibility of a Minister who is not a member of the committee, the Minister will be provided with the relevant papers and may attend the meeting for the items concerned.

5.63Arrangements for the representation of coalition and support party partners on Cabinet committees, and their attendance at meetings, are determined by the Prime Minister in consultation with the coalition or support party leaders.


5.64 A quorum for Cabinet meetings is half the full membership of Cabinet, plus one. The chair of a Cabinet meeting may vary the quorum requirements if necessary.

5.65There is no formal quorum for Cabinet committee meetings, although it is usually regarded as being three members. The quorum is decided by the chair of the meeting, taking into account the importance of the items under consideration, the presence of appropriate Ministers, and the advisability of taking decisions if few Ministers are present.

Attendance of officials and visiting dignitaries at Cabinet

5.66The Secretary of the Cabinet and the Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, who provide secretariat services to Cabinet, are the only officials to attend Cabinet meetings regularly. Occasionally, senior public service officials may be invited to give a special presentation to Ministers in the Cabinet room.

5.67Visiting dignitaries may occasionally be invited to meet members of Cabinet in the Cabinet room. Such invitations should not be issued until the Prime Minister's approval has been obtained and arrangements made with the Secretary of the Cabinet and the Visits and Ceremonial Office of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Attendance of officials at Cabinet committee meetings

5.68 Relevant officials are required to be available to assist Ministers at Cabinet committee meetings. The permission of the committee chair is required for any officials, including those from ministerial offices, to attend. For detailed information about attendance at Cabinet committee meetings, see the CabGuide.

Financial matters and Cabinet

Government spending

5.69 Government spending must always be based on statutory authority. The government must have authority from Parliament to spend money before expenditure is incurred. This means that departments should check that proposed spending has been authorised by either:

  1. an Appropriation (Estimates or Supplementary Estimates) Act; or
  2. a Cabinet minute authorising expenses or capital expenditure to be met under an Imprest Supply Act pending passage of an Appropriation Act.

Expenditure should never be incurred on the basis that legislation will be introduced later to validate it.

The Budget cycle

5.70 Wherever possible, government spending should be planned and agreed by Cabinet during the annual Budget cycle. The Budget cycle has several phases, starting in the second half of the calendar year before the start of the financial year. In broad terms, these phases are:

  1. Establishing high-level Budget priorities:Under the fiscal responsibility provisions in the Public Finance Act 1989, the government must indicate the high-level financial and policy priorities guiding the preparation of the forthcoming Budget. These priorities are agreed by Cabinet and published in the annual Budget Policy Statement, which is usually published in November or December. Cabinet also agrees to the Budget timetable and process (which are usually promulgated by way of Treasury circulars).
  2. Making detailed Budget decisions: Cabinet then considers more detailed Budget proposals for each Vote, in line with the priorities set out in the Budget Policy Statement. Budget baselines, which set out the funding for existing policy over the next four or five financial years, are determined by Cabinet or by joint Ministers under authority delegated by Cabinet. Cabinet also considers proposals for new policies or changes in the size or cost of existing initiatives.
  3. Presenting to the House:Once Cabinet has completed final Budget decisions, the Budget documents are finalised, printed, and presented to the House, usually in May or June. The parliamentary processes involved are set out in the chapter on financial procedures in the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (the Standing Orders).

5.71 The office of the Minister of Finance or the Treasury can provide further information on any aspect of the Budget cycle.

5.72Outside the Budget cycle, practical or political considerations may require Cabinet to take decisions with financial implications. Special arrangements (including a requirement to consult the Minister of Finance) are in place to ensure that individual proposals do not run counter to Cabinet's decisions on Budget financial and policy priorities.

5.73The details of these arrangements are set out in the CabGuide and in Cabinet Office circulars, available on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's website.

The Crown's financial veto

5.74 Some parliamentary initiatives may have an impact on the government's fiscal aggregates or the composition of a Vote. Departments, other agencies with policy responsibilities, and Ministers' offices must have processes for identifying such initiatives, which may require the exercise of the Crown's financial veto in the House. The financial veto is discussed in more detail in paragraphs 7.134 – 7.136.

Impact analysis for regulatory proposals

5.75 Departments are required to undertake impact analysis for any policy initiative that includes consideration of regulatory options (that is, options that will ultimately require creating, amending, or repealing Acts or disallowable instruments). Unless an exemption applies, any resulting policy proposals taken to Cabinet for approval that include a regulatory option must be accompanied by an impact statement or summary, even if the regulatory option is not what is finally proposed. Full information about impact analysis for regulatory proposals, and the requirements and exemptions for an impact statement or summary, are set out in the CabGuide and on the Treasury's website.

Constitutional issues and Cabinet

5.76 Any proposal that will affect New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements must be submitted to Cabinet. Where significant constitutional change is contemplated, issues of process and appropriate public participation must be clearly and fully addressed in the Cabinet paper.

International treaties and Cabinet

5.77 A treaty is a written agreement between states or international organisations that is governed by international law. Treaties (whatever their particular title) create international legal obligations for the states that have expressed their consent to be bound.

5.78 The steps required to become bound depend on the terms of a given treaty. Sometimes there are two steps: signature, followed by binding treaty action (often called ratification). Sometimes there is only the binding treaty action (for example, accession or definitive signature). Other examples of binding treaty action include changing an existing reservation to a treaty, and termination of or withdrawal from a treaty. An amendment to a treaty may also involve a new treaty (and therefore a binding treaty action).

5.79Any proposal for New Zealand to sign a treaty or to take binding treaty action must be submitted, with the text of the treaty, to Cabinet for approval. Domestic implementation (including any legislation and consultation) must be completed before binding treaty action is taken. For detailed guidance, see the CabGuide.

5.80 Where the Standing Orders require a treaty to be presented to the House for examination before binding treaty action is taken, a national interest analysis must also be prepared and submitted to Cabinet. Guidance on the parliamentary treaty examination process is provided in paragraphs 7.123 – 7.133.

5.81 The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade can provide advice on all aspects of the treaty-making process, and on the making of non-binding international instruments (usually called arrangements). Departments should consult the ministry's legal division at an early stage if they are considering entering into any negotiations that may result in a treaty or arrangement.

Referral to Cabinet of decisions taken outside the Cabinet process

5.82 Decisions taken by Ministers at ad hoc meetings, and proposals to implement policies arising from manifesto commitments or coalition or support agreements, need to be referred through the Cabinet process if they concern matters that would usually be considered by Cabinet (see paragraph 5.12). This process ensures that:

  1. the proper consultation process is followed;
  2. decisions are taken with the authority of Cabinet;
  3. departments and the Parliamentary Counsel Office have clear instructions; and
  4. the financial implications of decisions taken outside the Cabinet process can be taken into account.
Last updated: 
Monday, 20 November 2017

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