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Roles and responsibilities of 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.

Introduction to the Cabinet Office

Advisory role

Secretariat services

Cabinet Manual

Elections, transitions and Government formation

Introduction to the Cabinet Office

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 the 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 the 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.

Advisory role

Cabinet Office provides 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 and 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.

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

Cabinet Manual

The Cabinet Manual is an authoritative guide to central government decision making for Ministers, their offices, and those working within government. It is also a primary source of information on New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, as seen through the lens of the executive branch of government. The Cabinet Manual guides Cabinet's procedure, and is endorsed at the first Cabinet meeting of a new government, to provide for the orderly re-commencement of the business of government.

A speech by the Secretary to the Cabinet provides a history of the New Zealand Cabinet Manual, its purpose, the process of reviewing it, and the provisions of the Cabinet Manual that are particulary relevant in the context of general elections and the formation of governments.

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. The Cabinet Office provides policy advice, constitutional advice, and administrative support to the Government (including any caretaker government) over the election and government formation period. The Cabinet Office also provides guidance on the conduct of government business to the public service during the election period.

The 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 neutral support and advice on maintaining continuity of government, as required, to the Prime Minister and Governor-General.

Chapter 6 of the Cabinet Manual 2017 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.

The Elections page has more information about how we support the Government during an election period.

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.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 October 2020

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