By David Hargreaves
Well, we knew it was going to be bad. Now we know how bad. And it's BAD.
The confirmation by Statistics New Zealand on Monday that long-delayed information from last year's ill-starred Census will be rolled out from September onwards comes with the very unpleasant confirmation that try as they might the good folk at Stats haven't been able to sufficiently paper over the gaps in some key information - notably that around iwi affiliation. So there will be no release of that information.
Let's put that into context. Some of the brightest brains in Stats NZ have been working for months to find a way of using the data they have from the census, plus other available data, but haven't in key areas been able to patch it together well enough to release information they think is reliable. That's an appalling situation, frankly.
What's really surprised me in all this is the absence of any meaningful input either from the Government or the opposition.
The opposition's relative silence on this one (maybe it's because it isn't about tax?) is perhaps understandable given that the census, the great dog's breakfast of it all, was put together on National's watch under the previous administration.
The Coalition Government's reticence is rather more perplexing.
After all, you might have thought this would be a free pass at some National-bagging. A casual drive-by salvo along the lines of "they tried to penny pinch and this is the result".
Be that as it may, now that we are truly confronted with how bad this census outcome has been, the Government really needs to get into gear.
Now, right now, the Government should be urgently putting in place a new census as soon as is practically possible. It would appear unlikely it could logistically be done before 2021. Well, okay. Let's have one in 2021.
And I would go further. The Government should come out and say that it rejects the information in this census and it will not use it. That's extreme. But I think this is a big enough shambles to warrant extreme reaction.
I hesitate to say this, but is the Government's relative silence on the issue down to ignorance of just how crucial this information is in terms of forming key planks of decisions on things such as infrastructure?
As I said in an earlier opine on this subject, having ship-shape statistics is not some 'nice to have' fanciful thing. It's absolutely vital.
Patch-up jobs never work. Something as big as a census has to be done right first time. And if it isn't, then no amount of tinkering is going to fix it, not to the point where you can truly trust the results.
And sure, Stats NZ will defend the final outcome because what else could they do at this stage?
But the fact is, someone somewhere - probably in this Government - should have said a long time ago to Stats NZ that this 2018 census was not going to work.
Well, I say again that this is what needs to be said now.
Pull the plug. Put the whole thing in the bin.
Yes, some would consider it an outrageous waste of money, but I think the money's already been wasted. We've got results we can't trust.
Nobody hates waste of taxpayers' money more than me.
But think how much MORE money could be wasted if key infrastructure spending decisions are made based on information that proves not to be, to use the favourite corporate word, "robust".
I say the Government needs to get on to this now.
It's a mess and it will need some quick affirmative action for us to set about as a country remedying it.
We need to swallow the foul-tasting medicine on this one.
And we also need to say: "Never again."