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What Ministers do

Whole-of-government perspective
Example - a minister and a 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.

Examples - ministers and strategies

In the 2002 edition of DecisionMaker Guide we gave the challenge the Minister of Disability Issues faced with the NZ Disability Strategy to illustrate what ministers do - and the example remains valid.

Revitalising Japan New Zealand relations

This time we invite attention to the initiatives of the Prime Ministers of Japan and New Zealand to develop a new level of engagement between their countries - accentuating particular sectors of endeavour which fall under a range of ministers. They offer opportunities both to ministers and non-governmantal interests, illustrating as has been the case for years, that key issues in the Japan New Zealand relationship are key issues in New Zealand's national development. The big ticket items are trade in goods and services. People to people links can help develop the potential in some of those items - as tourism and education illustrate.

Air New Zealand has launched a programme to promote exchanges with Japan – a practical step in efforts to “revitalize” the Japan New Zealand relationship.

The call to “Visit Japan”, launched a few years ago by then newly re-elected Prime Minister Koizumi, and given a local push over the last few years by Japan’s representative in Wellington, Ambassador Saito, is a stimulant to closer educational contact.

As Foreign Minister Winston Peters says, the relationship is important, should be be underrated, and should be worked on - a post-election comment that eviences ministers will work to follow up the June 2005 joint statement from Prime Ministers Clark and Koizumi for the two governments to “take a forward looking and fresh look at the present bilateral economic relationship and consider ways to strengthen it”.

Ambassador Saito has made it clear he wants “revitalization”, and Prime Ministers Clark and Koizumi said they wanted more to happen in six areas when they met in 2005, and in 2002. The “new level of engagement” they sought include tourism, education, people to people relations and trade and investment facilitation. These all stand to gain from the parallel initiatives of the airline, the Japanese Ambassador and others to encourage Kiwis to visit Japan.

Education is an action area for revitalising the Japan New Zealand relationship said Maarten Wevers, head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, after his visit to Japan with Helen Clark. She picked out education for emphasis because, as Japanese speaking Wevers, former NZ Ambassador to Japan says, Japan has a strong base for building education and people to people relationships. “NZ has a good brand name” he says.

The foundation for the education ties have been laid over the last three or four decades, and open the way for individual educational institutions to build their own ties says Wevers.

There are pockets of interest in visits to and from Japan – and the relationships that then grow further. Cooperation between research and development specialists, supporting New Zealand’s growth and innovation strategy, was boosted by the 2005 agreement between NZ’s Ministry of Research, Science and Technology and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The PMs plan also to promote dialogue between academics and researchers on appropriate issues, as well as to strengthen high-level exchanges.

But it is the people interested in school and other special interest connections who might step up visits to Japan – and build on connections that lead to deeper educational contact, and to sustainable two way tourism.

Air New Zealand targets key schools that include Japanese studies in their curriculum, offering special fares and support material designed to foster the concept of cultural exchanges.

The airline has also helped show people in and out of education that visits to Japan can be affordable - by announcing single person return airfares with twin share accommodation for four nights in Tokyo for under $2000. The Embassy of Japan is also able to show enquirers ways they can visit Japan affordably – and old Japan hands and the internet can help people find out more about cost busting.
The Visit Japan thrust could have more impact if effective cooperative was built with New Zealand by the Sydney based office of the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), New Zealand travel industry sources say. JNTO could tie in destination brand advertising to raise awareness of Japan and Japanese culture and to create demand, its visiting journalist program could support destination brand advertising, and consumer and travel trade support could be expanded using 0800 phone, internet and brochures, trade shows and educational trips as key support tools.

Japan is now the third largest international route for Air New Zealand behind Australia and the USA. Air New Zealand operates up to 17 services per week to Japan and is expecting capacity increases of 36% on selected routes (Osaka/Nagoya) when the 767 fleet servicing these destinations is eventually replaced with 777 aircraft.

Disability issues

Consider again the NZ Disability Strategy as an example of what ministers do. 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.

Ministers can, as examples show, give leadership and keep public and private interests focused on clear goals.

By Anthony Haas, a former New Zealand foreign correspondent in Japan, who would down his work there to manage his visual disability.

Find out more!

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

Updated 10 February 2006




Prime Minister Helen Clark with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi

Prime Minister Helen Clark with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005 - when they agreed again to strengthen a new level of engagement between their countries through people to people and other relationships