Minister for Statistics Maurice Williamson says he has received more feedback in favour of a 10 year census than against it as Statistics New Zealand undertakes a review on whether to change from a five year cycle.
Williamson told a Parliamentary Select Committee in June that the government may follow a number of other developed nations and move to a 10-year cycle, as certain information became more freely available in the internet age.
Speaking to interest.co.nz on Thursday last week, Williamson said he and the Statistics Department had received feedback for and against the idea, with the review due out next year.
“I’ve been uncomfortable with the fact that new technology and the world of the future is moving so quickly in terms of the way data’s captured, that the old adage of having the five-year census, where we used to have shoe boxes where all the information got kept," Williamson said.
“When the doomsday book was first done, you probably had to do a census every year. I just think it’s time - we look at other countries that are quite modern and quite advanced don’t have five years, now they have 10. But I’m not going to prejudice the outcome of the work," he said.
There were pros to keeping a five-year cycle as a number of important decisions were made as a result of the census.
"Right now a lot of South Auckland DHBs are suggesting they’re underfunded based on quite big population growth because we’re using the 2006 census, and then we have people in Canterbury – well the accusation is – they’re being over funded because the population numbers are wrong," Williamson said.
"But there are good proxies for a lot of measures out there. You may not get them exactly right, but whether you need to correct them to the absolute every five years or not – because it’s an expensive project," he said.
Support outweighing resistance
There had been resistance, although support appeared to be outweighing that.
“Lots of people say, ‘oh you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ I keep thinking, well, look the world of information out there has just changed so dramatically with the internet and the speed with which you can cover data and so on, I just want it to be looked at," Williamson said.
"That’s why I’ve given a directive to the Government Statistician. The work is all going on, we’ve got to look at all the pros and the cons and what would be lost, but what would be gained, what the benefit-cost ratio of moving [would be]. So we will do a 2013 census, because that has been agreed to and announced, but that may be the end of the five-year cycles, and from that point on it may go to a ten-year,” he said.
Based on feedback received so far from the New Zealand’s economic community, Williamson said he thought more were in favour of moving to ten years.
“If you can tell me what the population on census night 2006 was...I can tell you exactly how many people are in New Zealand today, because we know how many people have been born, we know how many people have died, we know how many people have come into the country across the border entering, and we know how many people have left,” he said.
“The trouble is, we don’t know exactly where they are, and then when you get to electoral roles, that’s part of where the opposition’s coming. A lot of members of Parliament are saying, ‘I need my boundaries changed, I need to be in a safer seat, and so on.’ Well I don’t think you should be doing census based on safety of seats.
"There’s some really good foundations for whether this should change or not, and I’m going to wait until all that evidence is in and then we’ll be able to make a decision,” Williamson said.
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