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Out for the count

Masterton carries the title for the second worst responding town in a census that Stats NZ would rather forget.

The 2018 digital-first census was recognised, by and large, to be a disaster, with a response rate estimated to be about one in 10.

Then-Stats NZ chief executive and Government Statistician Liz MacPherson resigned following a review that found the online focus meant swathes of the population were missed.

It was revealed at a recent Masterton District Council meeting, that the town, percentage-wise, had the second-lowest response rate in New Zealand.

The national census, which determines where the Government and non-government organisations channel funding, takes place every five years, with the next census, the 35th, due to be held on March 7 this year.

In its 150-year history, the census has only been delayed twice, the most recent in 2011 due to the Christchurch earthquake.

Addressing councillors in the last meeting of 2022, Wairarapa census area manager Graham Streatfield said much had been learned from the 2018 census debacle.

“The 2018 census got a lot of bad press, and it was probably worse than the press gave it credit for.

“The fact that we got an 85 per cent response rate was extraordinary.”

He said the census was “run from the centre” and many decisions were made that failed to recognise the diversity within New Zealand with regard to online accessibility.

In particular, it failed young men, Maori and Pasifika communities and anyone with accessibility or literacy issues, he said.

“Everyone’s got access online, they can do it online, we don’t need paper forms. And it didn’t go well.

“Masterton actually came
in the second worst
responding town in the country, from a pure percentage-wise, rather than numbers.

“The good news is that the 2023 census has learned a lot of lessons.”

Streatfield said there had been sweeping reforms made for the 2023 census and asked councillors to help create awareness and recruit boots-on-the-ground census collectors.

He said in 2018, 97 per cent of the population received a code in the mail to fill in the census online.

“This time, 70 per cent of households will get that code, but also a letter offering paper services if they wish.”

He said 15 per cent would receive both online and paper options and the remaining 15 per cent the “Rolls Royce” service, which included multiple in-person visits to “get them over the line”.

Streatfield said Masterton would receive extra ‘delivery with contact’ to addresses that were missed in 2018, and dedicated people would be allocated to speak to transient populations and those in non-private dwellings.

He said there were entire streets and sections of Masterton that were pegged for delivery with contact and was seeking census collectors from those areas.

“We are trying to recruit people who live in those streets. We have an FTE [fulltime equivalent] for 17 personnel all up.

“If we employ part-timers, we can go up to 36 safely to cover the whole of Wairarapa. About a third are dedicated to Masterton.”

Streatfield said the job site was currently open and encouraged expressions of interest.

Minister of Statistics David Clark was under scrutiny at the end of last year with regard to census team leaders.

He advised Parliament in October that 306 of the required 321 census team leaders had been approved by Stats NZ to be offered jobs for census 2023.

Three of those team leaders were in Wairarapa.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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