2018 Census review looks gloomy for Māori stats

By Tema Hemi

Government Statistician and Chief Executive of Stats NZ, Liz MacPherson has resigned following the release of the Report of the Independent Review of New Zealand's 2018 Census.  The review says the census' Māori strategy failed to deliver accurate information or improve response rates, with many communities unable to fully participate.

MacPherson is stepping down after the review identified shortfalls in the census' 'digital first' approach. 

"I announced in June that I had concerns with response rates and I've been working on fixing that ever since."

She says that this level of remediation should not have been necessary and data gaps particularly iwi affiliation data are a great loss.  

"Unlike many other administrative data, government departments either don't collect iwi affiliation data or they don't collect it particularly well.  One of the things that iwi chairs have asked me to look into is the collection of iwi affiliation data by government departments.".

The number of people filling out the census who identify as Māori determines how many Māori seats there will be in parliament.

Māori response rates dropped by 20% from the 2013 Census.  However, Statistics Minister James Shaw says the census served its overall purpose. 

"New Zealanders can rest assured that for the most critical uses such as the settings of electoral boundaries or health or education funding services, the census does what it needs to do."

MacPherson says, "Yes, the response rates were unacceptably low but we have been able to combine the census forms information for Māori with good administrative data and so the actual coverage rates for Māori are comporable or slightly better."

On 23 September Stats NZ will be releasing the first official 2018 Census results.