Statistics Minister James Shaw is being coy about the resignation of the Government Statistician and Stats NZ CEO, Liz MacPherson, in the face of criticism from the Opposition that she’s being treated as a scapegoat for his failings.
MacPherson on Tuesday announced her resignation off the back of an independent report on the 2018 Census revealing a response rate of 83% across the population and only 68% among Maori.
The consequence of the low response rate is that there are significant gaps in the data, which are being filled in-part by non-census data.
Asked repeatedly in a press conference whether MacPherson’s resignation was “entirely her decision”, Shaw didn’t give a yes/no answer.
Rather, he responded: “She made the call to resign… I support her decision.”
Asked when MacPherson made the call, in relation to when both her and Shaw received the report, Shaw said: “I don’t know…
“I think that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on those conversations.
“You’ve got to know that Liz takes her responsibilities very seriously. And the fact is, she’s been working to remediate it for over a year now.
“I’m sure that her responsibilities have been weighing very heavily on her shoulders that entire time.”
MacPherson, who has been at the helm of Stats NZ for six years, took responsibility for the sub-par Census.
"Many of the shortfalls identified by the independent reviewers had already been identified by our own internal review processes," she noted.
"Steps have already been taken to address much of what went wrong, and to set out the steps to make sure a 2023 Census is a success."
National’s statistics spokesperson Jian Yang said MacPherson's resignation was "appropriate given how badly Census 2018 was botched".
"But she should not be a scapegoat for James Shaw whose failure to show leadership played a significant part in this mess," he said.
“The Minister needed to be more involved in his department. He should have asked more questions of his Statistics NZ leadership team and demanded better results from them.
“But he chose to be a hands-off Minister instead. He was missing in action when things were going wrong – off on a Pacific Island junket while his officials were left to clean things up.”
Yang said data gaps would create “enormous problems for the billions of dollars in funding for health, education, police and other vital services that depend on reliable Census numbers”.
“This failure also has massive implications for the next election with reliable data required to draw accurate electoral boundaries and decide the number of seats in Parliament.”
The first set of Census data will be released on September 23 - 11 months late. The second set will be published on December 12 and the third set in the new year.
MacPherson will remain in her Government Statistician role until Christmas.