Minister of Foreign Affairs (New Zealand)

Last updated

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Rt Hon Winston Peters

since 26 October 2017
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Style The Honourable
Member of
Reports to Prime Minister of New Zealand
Appointer Governor-General of New Zealand
Term length At Her Majesty's pleasure
Inaugural holder James Allen
Formation 24 November 1919
Salary $288,900 [1]
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The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a senior member of the Government of New Zealand heading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and responsible for relations with foreign countries.


The current Minister of Foreign Affairs is Winston Peters, who has held the position since 2017.

Responsibilities and powers

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for overseeing New Zealand's relations with foreign countries and the promotion of New Zealand's interests abroad. [2] The Minister is in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including New Zealand's diplomatic staff. The office is often considered to be one of the more distinguished ministerial posts, and has at times been counted as the most senior role below that of the Prime Minister. In terms of actual political power, however, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is not as prominent as in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the Minister of Finance being considerably more influential.

Historically, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has been a member of Cabinet, with the exception of the Rt Hon. Winston Peters between 2005 and 2008. This situation came about as the result of coalition negotiations in which it was agreed that the New Zealand First Party would take a senior ministerial portfolio but would not join Cabinet.


The first New Zealand foreign minister was James Allen, appointed to the post of "Minister of External Affairs" by William Massey in 1919. Before this time, there was no dedicated ministerial portfolio for foreign relations. A Department of External Affairs was created in 1919 but its functions were limited to administering New Zealand's Island Territories in the Pacific; namely the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and the League of Nations Mandate of Samoa. [3] In 1943, a new Department of External Affairs was created to conduct the country's external relations. The older department was then renamed the Department of Island Territories and a separate portfolio called the Minister of Island Territories was subsequently created. [4]

From 1943, the Minister of External Affairs became the main ministerial portfolio for conducting New Zealand's external relations. [5] Like its similarly named Australian and Canadian counterparts, the portfolio was called "External Affairs" rather than "Foreign Affairs" in deference of the British Government’s responsibility for conducting foreign policy on behalf of the British Empire and later the Commonwealth of Nations. [6] The title was changed to "Minister of Foreign Affairs" in 1970 after the Department was renamed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The title became "Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade" following the abandonment of the short-lived "Minister of External Relations and Trade" title, created in September 1988 when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs absorbed the Trade functions of the old Department of Trade and Industry. In 2005 responsibility for trade was split into a separate portfolio, with the title reverting to "Minister of Foreign Affairs".

Historically it has been common for Prime Ministers to take on the role of Foreign Minister themselves, particularly if they have an interest in the field. Several New Zealand Prime Ministers including Peter Fraser, Walter Nash, Keith Holyoake, and David Lange held the External Affairs portfolio. [5] The most recent Prime Minister to do this is Helen Clark in 2008 as Acting Minister, and prior to her was Mike Moore, in 1990. Thirteen Prime Ministers have served as Foreign Minister for all or part of their terms.

New Zealand has had 27 foreign ministers (regardless of exact title). The longest-serving was Keith Holyoake, who held the post for the duration of his 11-year premiership. The second longest-serving, and the longest-serving who was not also Prime Minister, was Don McKinnon, who became Commonwealth Secretary-General.

List of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

Colour key
(for political parties)

  NZ First   

No.NamePortraitTerm of officePrime Minister
1 James Allen 24 November 191928 April 1920 Massey
2 Ernest Lee 17 May 192013 January 1923
3 Francis Bell 7 June 192318 January 1926
4 William Nosworthy 24 May 192624 August 1928
5 Gordon Coates 25 August 192810 December 1928
6 Joseph Ward 10 December 192828 May 1930 Ward
7 George Forbes 28 May 19306 December 1935 Forbes
8 Michael Joseph Savage 6 December 193527 March 1940 Savage
9 Frank Langstone 1 April 194021 December 1942 Fraser
10 Peter Fraser 7 July 194313 December 1949
11 Frederick Doidge 13 December 194919 September 1951 Holland
12 Clifton Webb 19 September 195126 November 1954
13 Tom Macdonald 26 November 195412 December 1957
14 Walter Nash 12 December 195712 December 1960 Nash
15 Keith Holyoake 12 December 19608 December 1972 Holyoake
16 Norman Kirk 8 December 197231 August 1974 Kirk
17 Bill Rowling 6 September 197412 December 1975 Rowling
18 Brian Talboys 12 December 197511 December 1981 Muldoon
19 Warren Cooper 11 December 198126 July 1984
20 David Lange 26 July 198424 August 1987 Lange
21 Russell Marshall 24 August 19879 February 1990
22 Mike Moore 9 February 19902 November 1990
23 Don McKinnon 2 November 199010 December 1999 Bolger
24 Phil Goff 10 December 199919 October 2005 Clark
25 Winston Peters 19 October 200529 August 2008
Helen Clark
Acting Minister
29 August 200819 November 2008
26 Murray McCully 19 November 20082 May 2017 Key
27 Gerry Brownlee 2 May 201726 October 2017
(25) Winston Peters 26 October 2017Incumbent Ardern


  2. "Ministerial Portfolio: Foreign Affairs". The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. "External Affairs Bill", in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 185 (3 October5 November 1919), p.337.
  4. Malcolm Templeton, An Eye, an Ear, and a Voice: 50 years in New Zealand's External Relations, 1943-1993, p.1.
  5. 1 2 Malcolm Templeton, ed., An Eye, An Ear, And a Voice, pp.1-2.
  6. Alan Watt, "The Department of Foreign Affairs," in The Times Survey of Foreign Ministries of the World,Department of External Affairs (1921–70) ed. Zara Steiner (London: Times Books Limited, 1982), p.35; James Eary, "The Department of External Affairs," in The Times Survey of Foreign Ministries of the World, p.96.