Red Alert

Hands-off and Half-baked

Posted by on January 4th, 2013

NICOLE MATHEWSON reports in The Press (4 January 2013):

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch’s recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

I agree with our Earthquake Recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel:

“Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census …I’d really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We’ve had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that’s wrong.”

Green’s Eugenie Sage cited as an example that one of the reasons for not closing Belfast’s Ouruhia School is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. “Five-yearly census information will help confirm that.”

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was “not that straightforward”.

“I think Williamson’s idea is half-baked at best because it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data.”

Indeed. There are at least three issues as Statistics NZ noted:

  • Continuing cost increases (due to population growth and inflation);
  • Not keeping pace with potential cost savings arising from technological changes;
  • Increasing availability of administrative date.

NZ could learn a lot from international experience. Australia has developed its eCensus system and one of the goals for its 2016 census is to further increase internet uptake. At its 2011 census 34% of households completed forms online, already.

Canada is researching methodology options (based on existing administrative registers plus a full-enumeration field census with yearly updates).

France’s approach is unique: a full-enumeration of population and dwelling every five years plus 8% sample conducted every year in large municipalities. Date are released annually as moving averages.

US also changed census model. In 2010, its 10-yearly long-form census was replaced by ACS – a large annual survey of 3 million households.

Statistics NZ in its Transforming the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings: Issues, options, and strategy gave a detailed analysis of each option/approach.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson could simply read it and talk to his officials. His approach has so far been hands-off and his idea, half-baked.

5 Responses to “Hands-off and Half-baked”

  1. GeoffC says:

    This is the 21 st century and we are still using same methodolgy from the middle ages.
    I decry the slowing pace of change, time for a complete progressive rethink, adopt policy in a global sence and let’s embrace technology…where is Clare curran on this?

  2. yotiman says:

    Very interesting Raymond but what is Labour’s position on taking a census.

  3. cassie blake says:


  4. bbfloyd says:

    Three little points before I move on to a more useful task..

    1) The same methodology from the middle ages.. Really? Were you there? Decrying the slowing pace of change? So it’s not a good idea to give people the time required to assimilate change? Don’t you like people?

    2)Yoti… read the post again, and answer your own silly question…

    3)Yes it could get worse without a census… Or is the intrusive, authoritarian approach to gathering information on individuals within society the right way for governments to be informed? You do realise that census data is what future infrastructure planning is based on, don’t you?

    How accurate is that data going to be if people have to be forced to give it up? Would you be willing to expose every little detail about yourself to the ministry of truth?

    Do you trust Paula Bennett with that kind of information?

    If so, then good luck to you… I pray that I will be somewhere else before that ever happens, because I have no wish to live in a totalitarian country. Which is exactly what is happening under this ersatz government…

  5. jonathan says:

    We forget history. Germany, too, required its citizens to fill out a census form, naming ethnicity and exact street address. That’s how the Nazis were later able to locate the Jews to exterminate them. We are not a free people if we are forced to have our privacy violated, upon pain of fines or being labeled criminals if we don’t comply. Considering that more people were murdered by their own government in the 20th century than by any other means, it’s foolhardy to think that revealing such personal information to any government is always entirely innocuous. Our government is supposed to be serving us, not the other way around.