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Labour accuses Stats NZ of spinning building consent numbers during election campaign; But doesn't understand how to read the figures itself

Posted in Property

By Alex Tarrant

Government Statistician Geoff Bascand has come out strongly against suggestions from Labour Party MP Phil Twyford that Statistics New Zealand has been spinning its press releases to show favourable messages during the election campaign.

Twyford, who is Labour's Building and Construction spokesman, made the accusation in a press release on Tuesday, pointing to the large seasonally adjusted slump in building consents in September, while Statistics New Zealand's commentary of the figures led with the trend for consents continuing to rise.

This followed an article in the NBR earlier on Tuesday, which said it had written to Stats NZ questioning its commentary in the September building consent release, which led with the fact the underlying trend continued to rise, even though the headline seasonally adjusted monthly figures showed a large drop of 17%.

"NBR challenged Statistics NZ about its emphasis on a positive long-term trend and asked when a monthly rise or fall could affect the trend," NBR says in its article.

Stats NZ replied to the NBR by saying it had decided to emphasise the trend in the September release "as it shows the long-term picture for building consents, whereas if we had just emphasised the decrease in the seasonally adjusted and actual figures, some users may think the figures look worse than the actuality – when really the long-term picture shown by the trend is more of a positive picture”.

Twyford makes it political

Twyford then sent out a press release, saying if any government department needed to be "squeaky clean" in terms of political neutrality, it was Stats NZ. NBR had not questioned the political neutrality of Stats NZ in its article.

“It is even more crucial that this is the case during an election campaign. Voters have a right to be able to rely on the accuracy of the numbers Stats produces. They certainly do not expect these numbers to be massaged in a way that tells a more favourable story for the Government of the day," Twyford said.

That was "certainly" what appeared to have happened, however, with the release of the building consent figures for September, Twyford said.

“There was a large slump in consents in September this year compared to September last year ---- seasonally adjusted figures fell 17 per cent, including apartments, and fell 14 per cent when apartments are excluded --- but the headline on the Statistics NZ press release read: Trends for new home approvals continue to rise," he said.

“Talk about spin! Stats NZ’s enthusiasm could perhaps be excused in less partisan times, but during an election period when National is patting itself on the back for doing as good a job as anyone could in terms of keeping the economy ticking over, it is impossible not to see a lack of neutrality in the department’s media release.

“Stats NZ says it didn’t want to make the figures look worse than what they actually are. Well, there are other ways of doing that instead of trying to make a 17 per cent decline look like an increase,” Twyford said.

“That’s the sort of behaviour you expect from a John Key or Steven Joyce. It’s not what you expect of an organisation that has always --- until now --- prided itself on being fiercely independent of political bias. It is inexcusable for Statistics New Zealand to give even the appearance of bias during an election campaign,” he said.

Wrong numbers

However, in rushing to get his press release out, Twyford made the mistake of mixing up annual changes (which are shown by unadjusted numbers, and showed a fall of 1.3% in consents from September 2010 to September 2011) and the monthly seasonally adjusted figures, which did show a 17% drop in September from August. A spokesman for Labour said the accusation still stood, as the large monthly drop in September took place -it just wasn't an annual drop like Twyford had said. 

"The large decrease in seasonally adjusted figures for new home approvals in September partly reflects the strength of the increases in the previous two months," Stats NZ industry and labour statistics manager Louise Holmes-Oliver said in the release criticised by Twyford, which was released on October 31 - over a week ago.

"While monthly figures have decreased, the trend for new home approvals continues to rise," she said in the release.

The trend for approvals, which is based on the seasonally adjusted figures, rose 0.8% in September from August, down from 1.2% growth in August from July.

What Stats NZ said:

The trends for the number of new homes authorised, both including and excluding apartments, continue to rise after dropping to some of the lowest levels seen since these series began, Statistics New Zealand said today. This is despite seasonally adjusted figures for September showing a large decrease, whether apartment numbers, which tend to be volatile, are included or excluded.

"The large decrease in seasonally adjusted figures for new home approvals in September partly reflects the strength of the increases in the previous two months," industry and labour statistics manager Louise Holmes-Oliver said. "While monthly figures have decreased, the trend for new home approvals continues to rise".

In September 2011, seasonally adjusted figures fell 17 percent, including apartments, and fell 14 percent when apartments are excluded.

In September 2011, compared with September 2010, consents were issued for:

1,246 new homes, including apartments, down 1.3 percent

1,124 new homes, excluding apartments, down 6.5 percent

122 new apartments, including 79 assisted-living units.

In Canterbury, earthquake-related building consents totalled $29 million in September 2011. This comprised $26 million non-residential consents and $3 million in residential consents, including consents for four new dwellings.

Residential consent values totalled $398 million in September 2011, down 12 percent compared with the same month last year, while non-residential consents totalled $320 million, down 13 percent. Consent values for all buildings totalled $717 million, down 12 percent. 

Data for building consents is obtained from all territorial authorities. For more information on building consent statistics, see Building Consents Issued: September 2011.

Bascand comes out firing

Government Statistician Geoff Bascand released a press statement later on Tuesday, saying: "As Government Statistician, I am fiercely protective of my statutory independence in the production and release of statistics."

"Statistics New Zealand takes its responsibility seriously to explain and present statistics in a meaningful and accurate way. Phil Twyford MP has questioned our choice to highlight the trend series of statistics in our 31 October release of Building Consents Issued: September 2011," Bascand said.

"In this case, volatility over the past months meant that in our judgement, the trend series provided the most useful indicator of movements in building activity. We also reported the seasonally adjusted series within the first paragraph of our media statement and our more detailed information release included the actual monthly number of building consents," he said.

"Statistics New Zealand has an obligation to release objective statistics. We will continue to do this at all times."

My view

How desperate can Labour get?

In defense of Stats NZ, I have been many times accused by readers of ‘spinning the figures’ for the benefit of my articles. You have one headline, one opening sentence, and what you choose to angle on obviously can’t cover everything and please everyone.

In this case due to the large fluctuations over the past several months, Stats NZ decided to focus on the trend in consents. That’s fine. They’re probably like me and imagine those looking at their release won’t just read the headline like Phil Twyford has done.

And if he (or Labour’s media team – whoever actually wrote the release) had cared to read the full release, they’d have got their statement correct – immediately underneath the sentence saying there was a 17% drop in seasonally adjusted figures, it says there was a 1.3% drop in annual figures. Going further and actually reading the spreadsheet which shows the figures, they would have seen that the seasonally adjusted figures show change from the previous month.

The fact NBR decided to ask Stats NZ about its commentary is fine - that's its job. They wanted to know in what instance a large drop in the monthly seasonally adjusted figure would affect the trend (the trend fell from 1.2% to 0.8%).

Then Twyford decided to jump in and turn this into a political stunt (you each have one guess as to why) by questioning Stats NZ's political neutrality.

The fact that Twyford is making this accusation eight days after the figures were released just shows how desperate Labour is to try and get themselves in the media. Twyford is the party’s Building and Construction spokesman - he should have been looking at the figures the day they were released, and if he did, why weren't alarm bells ringing then?

If it takes him over a week, and a media article, for him to notice this commentary from Stats NZ, then what's he going to be like as Minister for Building and Construction?

And finally, Twyford isn't even Labour's spokesman for Statistics. That's Raymond Huo. If Labour's concerned about the Statistics department, then shouldn't their spokesman for statistics be issuing the release?

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Twiford is just another

Twiford is just another Phil.....and as for stats nz...why not stop commenting and just release the raw data...!

The building sector activity got a nail in the head when gst was raised...cheapo house now carries a $30,000 tax on if you borrow loot from a bank to pay for the house, you are paying gst on a portion of the loan...and the council grabs more rates based on the higher value that includes gst...and you pay gst on the rates.....

Is it any wonder then that many Kiwi have said "stuff that for a joke" and decided not to build a dam thing.

why not stop commenting and

why not stop commenting and just release the raw data...!


Fat chance Colin...that would

Fat chance Colin...that would mean 90% of the staff could be let go...huge drop in salary and prestige for the boss...booted out of the Sir Humphrey club in wgtn...shame...

Yep - it is the power and

Yep - it is the power and prestige that matters. But not just for the boss - notice how there is at least one other tier below the boss tasked with adding spin (or drivel) to the numbers. 

Yep, GST at 15% has passed a

Yep, GST at 15% has passed a critical tolerance threshold.

We had an $8,000 concrete job quoted recently - and looked at the $1,200 GST line and decided on principle not to pay it.  Point for us as well - it's claimable as a farm expense but it's the principle.

It must be killing the trades and at the same time lowering the government receipts.





So Kate does that mean that

So Kate does that mean that you left the contractor $1200 out of pocket, or you didn't get the job done?

Doing it ourselves.

Doing it ourselves.

Wise move Kate. Most jobs can

Wise move Kate. Most jobs can be planned to make DIY go smoothly. Do not approach your council ....they will demand you apply for planning and charge fees to inspect the process....

No comment from govt as Kiwi

No comment from govt as Kiwi move at a faster pace to make 'under the counter' payments especially where jobs are mostly labour based. Govt revenue falling. Trades unable and unwilling to work illegally, facing the worst of the problem...Govt looking at far higher costs to pay for policing the gst enforcement.

What a mess.

Govt refuses to accept gst is

Govt refuses to accept gst is a very real killer of employment in the building sector...public now aware of an impending back down post election...a reduction in gst on all new build and reno work and on the labour content...idiocy to deny gst is at fault.

Most important of all is the realisation by the public, that they have the power to cause the problem to become worse. I suspect demand for goods and services in this sector will be in steady decline and most noticeable in the next three months.

Those in chch getting payouts are not as stupid as the govt thinks. Payments are going into accounts and not the building sector. Anyone building now is tossing away the likely gst drop.

The important point here is that there is nothing but blind madness refusing to make the cut.

Bollard is trying to pork averything with cheap credit but it is not working.

So are you saying gst will be

So are you saying gst will be reduced after the election, Wolly. Or just for the building sector?

My pick is just the building

My pick is just the building sector and related trades CO...and not until the sector bosses and the banks have drummed it into Bill's head..that'll take maybe the whole xmas period...

Meanwhile the number doing the cash jobs has to be increasing by the week.

Agree. And 15% GST is killing

Agree. And 15% GST is killing house construction. On a $2 chocolate bar, a 5% difference is bugger all, on a house, its a big additional cost.

Cut GST on new house builds to 5% - watch construction surge, and new jobs get created.  

Cut GST to 5% on new-builds,

Cut GST to 5% on new-builds, MIA, and see established house prices fall 10% immedialtely. Who'd buy a sedond hand house if the cost of a new one was 10% cheaper? Add in the 'surge' in construction and we'd compound that issue with massive over-building....looks good to me :)

Cutting it to 10% is all

Cutting it to 10% is all that's needed NA....I think they will target that...the boost in employment has to come well before 014 if this lot are to stay in office...the chch rebuild will be a slow as she goes affair and will be nowhere near the much hyped bubble of building activity...The rotting rebuilds face the same gst kick in the face.

We can all see what the govt intended...'gst up paye down and smother it in spin'...trouble was they didn't think there would be any unintended revenue down and building sector unemployment up...most of them have shot across the Tasman...and are likely as not planning to paddle home to Kiwi dole benefits.

Somebody above Key and Co will bang Cabinet heads together to get the sludge between the ears working. Bollard's cheap credit gambit won't cut the mustard...people see the gst poison and say stuff that for a joke.

Me thinks many of the big retailers of building supplies etc will have lean times this xmas. The trades will find empty socks on the bedposts on the 25th.

I think a cut to 5% is needed

I think a cut to 5% is needed to make a meaningful difference

there would be little or no loss in tax revenue as construction would boom

Yes Matt but a cut of that

Yes Matt but a cut of that size would also signal the govt had lost control of the spin more likely to 10%.

As you say, the revenue generated from the jobs created and boosted spend would be far higher than the 5% gst drop on an ever declining sector.

The problem is the sludge between the ears on the 9th floor of the Beehive. They have until 014..3 years...if they haven't stirred the sludge long before'll be a green generation from that point on.

Of course Stats NZ spin

Of course Stats NZ spin numbers, its what they do for a living.  They know the game.

If GDP and CPI aren't the two biggest rigged stats in the game, I don't know what is !




haha, yes of course !!

haha, yes of course !!

In the world of finance the

In the world of finance the past is irrelevant., as is the long term trend in today's volatile environment. If the government's statistician believes he can forecast the future while ignoring the immediate present he should take a position that better reflects the needs of the citizens paying his salary. The same applies to those Treasury forecasters that call for future  government surpluses based on false extrapolations of growth seen in the now long distant past. 

On housing and Local

On housing and Local Government, Labour has yet to say anything that makes sense.

If they keep this up, they will be heading for extinction - with the Greens becoming the New Left.

In fact Labour is so bad - they are making the Nationals look good - which is no mean feat. Todays poll tells it all really.

Hugh Pavletich

Absolutely correct , Hugh .

Absolutely correct , Hugh . NZ Labour are nearly as appalling in opposition as the Nat were during the Clark & Cullen years . Unless we have a strong major opposition party , the prevailing government can maintain low standards and enact sloppy policies . As we have endured from 1999 to 2011 .

..... teach Labour the mother-of-all lessons , vote Greens !

Until such time as Labour clear out their low-grade welfarism policies , they deserve the ignomy of being the # 3 party in parliament . Goofy , Klinger & Cunny have gotta go . Bring in some fresh faces and new ideas . Get the country back onto the path of production , and away from borrowing to prop up the  welfare state .

Vote : GREEN !

GBH, who in Labour is

GBH, who in Labour is Klinger?

Annette King : It's an

Annette King : It's an honourary Gummster title , give because of her passing resemblance to a character on the TV series M.A.S.H.  ; a species found on Star Trek  ; and a Bluff Oyster ( some things just hang on grimly , determined never to be prised from their favourite rock ) .                                                                                                                                                                             

Great show MASH...

Great show MASH...

And a crackerjack movie that

And a crackerjack movie that preceded the series .... only one actor jumped from the film to the TV series , guess who ?

Gary Burghoff !

.... " who ? " , you ask ..... switch yer radar on ...

.. " choppers , incoming , .... choppers ! "



GBH and other "friends of the people"....

Labour should really have cleaned out the Clark / Cullen fossils through this term and bought people with an IQ level above room temperature in to the place. If they want to avoid extinction, they are obviously going to have to do this following the election later this month. Left voters of course can help enormously by voting Green this election, so that most of the "flushing out" of Labour can properly be done by voters.

Poor Mr Goff looks so miserable "mouthing off" stuff he doesnt believe himself. He deserves to be put out of his misery as soon as possible.

This is of course an enormous opportunity for the Greens long term. But if they want to be the dominant Party of the Left, they better make damn sure they are not economic illiterates. Otherwise, Labour will re emerge again.

I wonder if Russel Norman and the key people of the Greens have enough between the ears to realize this.

We shall see.

Hugh Pavletich

Labour is paying the price of

Labour is paying the price of Clarke’s ruthless reign. She was so obsessed with protecting her power base she failed to encourage new competent MPs as the future life and blood of the party hence the current void.  

The headline commentary for

The headline commentary for the month was that only four building consents were issued for new homes in Canterbury. Stripping out the previous months inclusions of relocatable buildings , following the Canterbury earthquakes ,the nationwide trend in building consents is at best flat,to argue ,using Statistics own graphs that the trend is up,as Cathryn Ashley Jones claims runs counter to my ten year olds recently acquired mathematical interpretation .

 Fill Twifford couldnt

 Fill Twifford couldnt organise a fart