BRIAN EASTON: Census 2023 – why I take the population census seriously

  • Brian Easton writes –

The low coverage of the 2018 Population Census and Dwellings has generated all sorts of difficulties. You are told that census results are vital for allocating electoral seats and  education and health funding. That is absolutely true but social researchers use its findings for many other purposes. For instance, it has a comprehensive survey of our housing stock and of people’s internal migration while it also used to guide the disability survey. Its detailed age and gender structure is vital for national and regional population projections.

(It may be especially useful for the reconstruction arising from Cyclone Gabrielle, especially for housing on the margins and isolated. Censuses are very good for dealing with such groups.) Continue reading “BRIAN EASTON: Census 2023 – why I take the population census seriously”

From Homepaddock:  How StatsNZ contentiously counts Kiwis (or miscounts them?) for gender and ethnicity purposes

This article – posted today on Homepaddock – draws attention to contentious data-collecting issues raised by the way StatisticsNZ counts people for gender-defining and ethnicity purposes.  The distorted results are influential in determining who gets how much funding and the number of Maori seats in Parliament…  

Suzanne Levy has spotted a problem with the way StatisticsNZ counts people:

In November 2021, the Department of Statistics sought feedback on their LGBTQ Statistics reporting changes. These proposed changes included collecting sex and gender data but using the “gender as the default” method for reporting…

The result seemed to be that there was no way to differentiate between a lesbian and a man who said he was a same-sex attracted woman. . . .

That also means there appears to be no way to differentiate between people born female and those born male who choose the feminine gender.

An email from StatsNZ says

Consistent with the “gender by default” principle set out in the “Statistical standard for gender, sex, and variations of sex characteristics”, this includes all adult respondents who indicated that their gender is female.  . .

Why does that matter?:

Yep – so that’s a problem and it is incredibly homophobic to record a male as a lesbian, regardless of how he sees himself. Stats are collected to help with planning and various things – what use is this statistic if it doesn’t count the group that it claims to? The group that any reasonable person would assume was being counted in this data? How can we consider health needs of lesbians if we don’t know who they are? Should we be suggesting prostate cancer checks or cervical smears? Changing the meaning of the word female to include biological males is nonsense and will create meaningless statistics.

It also distorts reality, and the data on which important decisions are based, if people born one sex are counted under a different gender.

If more biological males identify as women than biological females identify as men, it could help funding for female specific needs. But the reverse could also be true and government decisions should not be based on dodgy data about what people feel rather than what they are.

It’s not only gender that isn’t counted accurately. Hilary Calvert says StatsNZ’s simplification of ethnicity is inaccurate and unreliable:

. . . One of the questions we are asked in the census is about which ethnicity we identify with. This question involves self identification, and allows us to choose more than one if we identify with several different ethnicities. It is contrasted on the Stats NZ website with race, nationality, ancestry and citizenship.

In the past, Stats NZ then took the answers we provided and blatantly just changed them, according to a hierarchical model whereby if any of the options you chose were, say, Maori, then you would be described as Maori and your other options would effectively disappear. (How it categorised the 400,000 people who recently described themselves as “New Zealanders” when asked this question, I have not been able to get to the bottom of.)

Apparently, this has changed recently in the raw data.

But Stats NZ still takes our answers and twists them to eliminate any reference to more than one ethnicity.

On November 17, 2022, it issued a press release headed “Maori population estimates at 30 June 2022”, saying that during the June 2022 year the Maori ethnic population grew by 17,200. It went on to say that at June 30, 2022, New Zealand’s estimated Maori ethnic population was 892,200 (17.4% of national population).

Starting with us answering questions about who we identify as, accepting multiple answers, Stats NZ turns our answers into a single answer.

Having chosen which of our answers it prefers, it then somehow turns ethnicity into race by headlining the press release as ” Maori population estimates …”

Based on these “statistics”, we now have commentators saying the number of Maori seats in Parliament should change.

We have the government and others making comparisons between prison populations and school achievement based on what could be vastly different ideas of which singular race we have been assigned to — or which ethnicity, since the distinction has been fudged. . . 

This matters not just for how many Maori seats there are also but for a whole lot of decisions on policies and funding.

Having been given the task of providing our baseline information, Stats NZ is then influencing the government to make far-ranging choices about where our money is spent and how it arranges its departments.

A major challenge for any government is to improve the outcomes, and in fact the chances of good outcomes, for those who are being held back. And it is indisputable that outcomes for New Zealanders are too often connected to our race and ethnicity.

And we aspire to having ethnic equality by having outcomes being the same across all ethnicities.

However, improving all poor outcomes is a different aim from the aspiration of achievements being available to us equitably across all races and ethnicities.

The racial aspiration will not be achieved while we fudge figures about ethnicity.

We need to understand how best to deal with the position that many New Zealanders are of mixed race, and how to see what part race and ethnicity play in outcomes when we acknowledge our mixed race and mixed ethnicity.

Then we need to understand whether we can compare the census answers with descriptions of the ethnicity or race of people who turn up at hospital or in education or in the prison population. Or how we conflate those who choose to be on the Maori roll with those who describe their ethnicity as including Maori when we decide how many Maori seats are fair in Parliament. Or who might be involved as self-appointing co-governance “partners”.

The pretence that we are each of one ethnicity only will not serve us well. It is encouraging racism by the government always choosing to describe people as Maori whenever bad outcomes are being discussed.

We need good and accurate information if we want race and ethnicity to play a reduced role in determining the future of a child in New Zealand.

Or we could focus on improving outcomes for all who are being held back by others and by societal choices, knowing and appreciating that this will benefit disproportionately those who identify at least in part as Maori.

I have another problem with ethnicity – that those of us who identify as New Zealander (as distinct from New Zealand European) come way down the list under other, and then get lumped under Pākehā or European by StatsNZ, neither of which are ethnicities and apply only to Kiwis of one race.

Few if any people in Europe would put European if asked their ethnicity so why is this outdated term used on the other side of the world? And what about all those Kiwis whose ancestors came from Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East?

Ethnicity is much more than race and it’s high time New Zealanders were counted as New Zealanders regardless of our race or from where our ancestors came.

Coming up with a new name for this commission was a walkover? Not when it is developing a Treaty partnership

The news from an outfit called the Walking Outdoor Access Commission was startlingly summed up in four words in a press statement headline:  We’re changing our name.

The fundamental change should have be no more than the removal of the  word “walking”,  because (as the press statement tells us):

“Our new name recognises more than the breadth of trail users, which range from people in tramping boots to fishing waders, sitting astride a horse or a bike, shouldering a rifle or pushing a stroller.”

And so, the new name will  be the Outdoor Access Commission?

Don’t be silly.

“Trails aren’t just for walkers, they’re for all of us – and so is Herenga ā Nuku Aotearoa, the Outdoor Access Commission, formerly the Walking Access Commission (from 28 July 2022).”   

Does that mean “Herenga ā Nuku Aotearoa” is te reo for “Walking Access Commission”?

Again, don’t be silly.

“Herenga is a bond, obligation or tie. Nuku refers to Papatūānuku, the earth mother. She is the land in all her beauty, power, strength and inspiration. She sustains us.   

“Herenga ā Nuku Aotearoa – connecting people, connecting places.”

The press statement provides some (but not much) background:

“In 2019 a government review of the Walking Access Act 2008 recommended the Commission change its name to better reflect its activities and its relationships with Māori.”

This would be an Ardern government review, we may suppose.

It should be noted that the emphasis was to go on the commission’s relationship with Māori, not its relationship with the public or with New Zealanders.


“The Iwi Chairs Forum supported cultural advisors Tūtira Mai to develop a new name for the Commission.” 

How, when and why the Iwi Chairs Forum was brought into the decision-making process is not clear.

But we do know that Tūtira Mai is not a charity and thinking up a new name for the Walking Access Commission would be challenging when “walking” is omitted.

The company’s website tells us it conducts cultural reviews, guides strategy development and implementation, and develops confidence in organisations “during their journey to becoming culturally capable.”

The company explains its own name in an impenetrable mix of English and te reo, typical of the  modern-day way of communicating with New Zealanders:

Tūtira Mai was born from the words of the waiata, ‘Tūtira Mai,’ composed by Canon Wi Te Tau Huata of Ngāti Kahungunu.

“We are guided by the words “whaia te māramatanga” and “me te aroha.”

We are a tira (team/group) of 10; six of whom provide the cultural capacity and the remainder are the hāpai ō (support).

Our manutāiko (cultural advisors) all sit on paepae in our respective areas as kaikōrero/kaikaranga, are former secondary school and university lecturers and are deep into marae life and iwi kaupapa, as well as being experienced facilitators.

We also bring big picture senior management expertise to our mahi as former or current, umuaki, chairpersons, board members, CEO and iwi leaders.

Our teaching / learning / experience comes not out of a textbook but straight off the marae. We are a tira (group) set on the goal of whakatira (bringing people together). To do this we provide cultural advice and guidance to organisations who are wanting to include te ao Māori in their workplace practices.

Through education / training and ensuring that Māori are always included at the decision-making table ( aroha ), we whakatira Māori and Pākehā. By doing so, the vision of the Tiriti ( Treaty of Waitangi ) as our tūpuna expected, is upheld.

One part of the business is to help with communications and branding:

Do you need help with naming or developing culturally responsive communications? We help you to generate trust and connection with your brand through powerful storytelling. We can assist in embedding Te Ao Māori worldviews that will inspire and embrace staff and clients alike.

Please send us your details below so we can help you to plan for your kaupapa (purpose/topic/occasion).

Kia whakapā mai || Contact a Consultant.

On the commission’s website, the name has yet to be changed and the English-language component  comes first:

“The New Zealand Walking Access Commission Ara Hīkoi Aotearoa provides leadership on outdoor access issues and administers a national strategy on outdoor access, including tracks and trails. It maps outdoor access, provides information to the public, oversees a code of responsible conduct, helps to resolve disputes and negotiates new access.

“The Commission has a small team in Wellington and a network of regional field advisors. It is governed by an independent board.”

In the most recent annual report, for 2020/21, chairman Don Cameron says:

“This is the first full year I have had the privilege of signing as Ara Hīkoi Aotearoa New Zealand.”

He further says:

“The Board has invested significant energy in the last two years developing a Māori Partnership Strategy that ensures the Commission meets its Tiriti obligations. This has changed our mahi in all areas and changed the way we reach out to and work alongside tangata whenua.”

 And CEO Ric Cullinane says:

“Our Māori Partnership Strategy proudly puts steps in place to focus on our allyship with Māori. Our staff at the Commission are also crafting individual Māori implementation strategies and I’ve enjoyed learning new waiata before our weekly hui. In the next 12 months, we’ll look at incorporating more waiata and more kupu into the Commission. We also look forward to welcoming our Strategic Relationships Manager to the team to further continue this journey.”

The annual report says total revenue for the year was $3,573,678 and total expenditure was $3,222,319.

The largest single item of under expenditure against budget was for Māori engagement which was underspent at year-end by $185,117.

“Work on Māori engagement during the year was very much foundation work with a significant amount of staff, board and regional field advisor time applied to the creation of the Commission’s first Māori Partnership Strategy and a detailed implementation plan and timeline. Embedding the commitment to te Tiriti and actively lifting the Commission’s leadership capacity and cultural capability resulted in several training initiatives and personal development plans during the year but most of the cost of this was staff time already included in personnel costs.”

The Commission has eight board members, three of them of Māori descent with experience in Māori Crown issues.

The press statement which tells us about the new name concludes:

“A trail gets us from A to B, but between those points is the journey. This name change is one step in the Commission’s journey, with many more to come.”

Many more name changes?

Surely not.