Knowing how government works helps citizens get their voices heard. Knowing how the machinery of government works helps diagnose the problem when the results are not what you want.
Cabinet, which gets its authority from Parliament, shapes the direction of government. Government policies and administration are also influenced by its agencies’ baseline policies in the portfolios of each Cabinet Minister that carry on until changed.
The very word government implies a coherent organisation that does consistent things. But it is unhelpful to assume government has an approach that works tidily across the agencies in all portfolios. Citizens and Ministers might want a whole-of-government approach, but in reality the contemporary New Zealand government often works like a series of individual agencies, or silos. Ministers have to make hard decisions. Their skills may be tested in persuading a whole of government approach by particular agencies so they deliver on a desired policy.
Cabinets set strategies and tactics to advance the policies they consider important – and Ministers have to develop the policies in the light of their colleagues’ preferences, their officials’ capacities, the budget resources negotiated annually, the priority setting competition in which they have to engage and the political will.
Different Cabinets have different views as to how government resources should be spent. Cabinets, influenced by their parties and the electorates that put their Members into Parliament, may have ideological or interest group support that influences how they allocate resources. Some Governments would prefer extra government income to be distributed to families, others would prefer to support corporates by cutting taxes.
So if you are an interest group working for families, or for corporates,
you need to understand the direction the Cabinet wants to take – its political
will. Understanding your interests and beliefs – and the direction of
the central policy makers and the agencies (the silos!) of the government
you seek to influence – helps you target where your voice should try
to make a difference.