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What Ministers do

Whole-of-government perspective
The Minister and the Strategy
Engage proactively

Ministers look at issues from many points of view – and your own information and opinion can help them help you and others. A letter or email is a sensible way for members of the public to communicate with New Zealand Cabinet Ministers. Ministers expect to reply, helped by their staff.

Ministers expect to hear from people in their electorate, from their departmental chief executives, policy advisers, Ministers in Cabinet and its Cabinet committees, backbenchers in their caucus, lobby groups, media, coalition partners, Ministers in other governments and sections of the public of interest to them.

New Zealand Cabinet Ministers are all Members of Parliament. In the US, cabinet members do not have that additional responsibility. Ministers normally have very full workloads. They are under pressure to make many decisions, and to represent interests both as Ministers and as Members of Parliament. Working days from 7am to 10pm are not uncommon. The Ministerial Services agency provides the infrastructure (from finance to staff) to help make these workloads possible.

Ministers are also Cabinet’s eyes and ears about trends in the community. The impressions they get from voters might stimulate questions about advice given by official advisors. Some Ministers place weight on gaining access to independent sources of advice, and may even set up arrangements for contesting traditional channels of advice.

Whole-of-government perspective

Many Ministers are responsible for more than one portfolio. Some are associate Ministers, working with other Ministers on portfolio responsibilities. Ministers also work together over a range of portfolios to achieve a broad approach on issues. They may be addressing a new issue that requires a different approach by government.

There are portfolios that naturally cut across others. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister need to take a whole-of-government view. Ministers such as those responsible for foreign affairs and trade, government shareholding, regional development, transport and particular population groups, need to be familiar with the portfolios of other Ministers and address special interests across the whole of government.

Increasingly, Ministers are directly employing policy advisors to give them an independent whole-of-government perspective, rather than relying on departmental advisors, whose perspective may be limited by historical perspectives or departmental brief.

The Minister and the Strategy

Ruth Dyson, the first New Zealand Minister for Disability Issues – and her Office for Disability Issues established in July 2002 – uses the New Zealand Disability Strategy (NZDS) as a tool for assessing the effectiveness of other agencies. Each department and/or agency is required to prepare an implementation plan and then report on progress. This progress is presented in a formal annual report to Parliament.

As a Minister in Cabinet, she is able to check whether all policies have taken account of disability issues and also to advocate for specific issues with her colleagues.

The planning and implementation process ensures that departments incorporate the NZDS into their budgets and broader work plans. Government agencies often start to prepare these budgets and work plans six to eight months before the financial year, which begins on 1st July.

Engage proactively

Prime Minister Helen Clark strongly encourages organisations and individuals outside central government to be involved with the implementation of the NZDS. Disability sector organisations can take the opportunity presented by the NZDS to proactively engage with relevant government agencies to make them aware of important issues.

Of course, participating in formal consultation processes continues to be an important way for organisations and individuals to be involved in the implementation of the NZDS.

Government departments are increasingly drawing on the expertise of people with disabilities and disability organisations in their work.

Find out more!

See the Cabinet Manual for more information on the roles and responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown.

Updated 22 November 2005


Photo shows Prime Minister and Parliamentarians.

In 2002, the Speaker opened a Pacific room in Parliament Buildings. Then Minister of Pacific Affairs, Mark Gosche and the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, centre, with Pacific MPs Winnie Laban (current Associate Minister of Pacific Islands Affairs) and Taito Field (former Associate Minister of Pacific Islands Affairs).

Photo shows young girl seated at the Prime Ministers desk.

Prime Minister 2035?
A seat at the Prime Minister’s desk was Alysha Dougherty’s reward for her report on suffragette Kate Shepherd when her Island Bay School visited Parliament during a study of women’s rights.