Change in Census processes needed


It is very obvious that the 2018 Census was a farce. But the fact that the chief statistician Liz MacPherson thought she did not have to come clean on the full extent of the problem until being threatened with Contempt of Parliament, tells me that it is more than just a colossal failure of data gathering systems. It tells me that officials responsible for the Census are operating with contempt of Government, which is a serious allegation for anyone to make.

According to Ms MacPherson when she finally told Parliament about the full scale of the data loss, as many as 1 in 7 New Zealanders failed to complete a census, something that has to be completed for every single person in New Zealand on the assigned night. The scale of the data loss as a result of thousands of New Zealanders not being able to complete or even attempt the census is severe enough, that combined with Ms MacPherson’s failure to be honest with Parliament and ultimately New Zealand it is not unreasonable to ask for her head.

National Party Member of Parliament Nick Smith said that New Zealand should seriously consider having another census as early as 2021. In suggesting that, Dr Smith indicated it would be in line with the original schedule of Census nights. That was knocked out of kilter by the Christchurch earthquakes which forced thousands of people from their homes and the 2011 Census would have been conducted during the earthquake emergency, when as much as 1/5 of Christchurch had left town.

What Dr Smith overlooks is the under investment that his party made in statistics, which is in line with a general dislike for “paper shunters” – bureaucrats and office workers who do what to many are boring, yet essential jobs. The premature transit from the old data system to a new one was so bad that thousands of New Zealanders could not log in to do the census, could not submit census if they managed to complete it.

Green Party M.P. and Statistics Minister James Shaw appears to have his head stuck in the sand bank. The results are as good as useless and will affect planning for a myriad of services, functions, ministries and programmes. The next census is not scheduled until 2023, but can New Zealand really hang tough with such a monstrous failure meaning that the next four years are really just going to be a hodge podge of guess work for the people who need the data? I think not. And so, I tend to favour Dr Smith’s redeeming suggestion that a new one be held before then, which Mr Shaw rejects.

Maybe Mr Shaw might find himself following Ms MacPherson walking the gang plank.