Friday, May 31, 2024

Kerre Woodham: How do we get information we need if not the Census?

We need information. To create a functioning society, there's certain information that we need to know. How many of us there are in the country for starters. How old we all are, so we know where we need to build schools and what sort of aged care we might need in the future. Roads, public transport, all that sort of stuff depends on knowing where we all are, who we all are, where we work. So many questions and so many answers needed. And since 1851, we've been getting that information via the Census.

People from the statistics department would come on foot, or by horse, or on boats, or by tram, or by train, or by bus, or by cars and drop off forms to dwellings, as they're called, and New Zealanders filled them out. Then the stats people would come along and collect them. Then the number crunchers would sharpen their pencils and do their thing every five years.

But times change and attitudes change, and not everybody trusts the government the way they used to. There was a great big data dump from Stats New Zealand yesterday with all sorts of factoids coming out of it. But are the factoids worth the paper they are printed on? The backbone data system effectively broke during the Census of 2023 causing significant failures, according to internal Stats New Zealand documents. The Azure Cloud Storage System used simply wasn't capable of handling the torrent of responses and that led to an estimated 100,000+ unnecessary field visits. At the backlogs peak a million individual and dwelling forms were queued, and the backlog wasn't cleared until April the 3rd. So, really? You've got all of this data coming in. I mean, bring back the pencil sharpeners really, and bring back the accountants, and bring back the men with the pocket protectors, and the walk shorts, and the knee socks, because they seem to do a far better job than the Azure Cloud Storage System has ever done.

Then you have the human frailties factor. People on Heather's show yesterday were texting and saying they've ticked all sorts of boxes that bore no relation to reality. That they wanted to get the jab, and they wanted to get it early so they ticked the Māori box because they wanted to get the vaccination when Māori did. They said I know loads of people that did it, why shouldn't they? I identified as Māori, says Tim, for the Census and it works well for me. I also identify as Māori for all medical work, it improves Māori stats for health, crime, and income, all of the stats says the texter. A friend of mine, who's as white as anyone you could imagine identified as Māori, within a couple of weeks he was notified he was eligible for some free screening, whereas if he had put European, it would have been another seven or so years. When you when you take into account the fact that a lot of people don't trust the government, a lot of people will just tick whatever when people don't trust the government to be able to protect the information they're giving them, when some of the questions seemed very, very odd in the last Census.

I remember when I was doing nights on talk back and asked to fill out the Census between a specific set of hours. I wasn't there. I was at work. So, they rang me and said right, we need you to sit down and do it with us, when are you free? And I said, well, from about 12:15 to 2:00am, plenty of time. That's when I relax and I've got nothing to do. That's when I usually do my paperwork. Oh well, we don't have anybody on. Well, you asked me when I was free, I'm a shift worker. And presumably when you have shift workers who can't fill out their Census because they're at work then you might have to look at stats and Census information seekers who can work beyond 9 to 5.

So, all sorts of issues with the Census. Is there any way to collect the information we need to run our society effectively that you would trust? When it comes to the Census, did you fill it out accurately and correctly and properly and with due diligence? Or did you extract the Michael? Did you take the Mickey and think this is just all a load of nonsense? It really isn't. You understand that we need the information to know where to build the schools, to know where the population is, to know where you're working so we can get the public transport, to know how many oldies there are going to be twenty years from now, so we can have the aged care ready for them. You understand that? You don't trust government or government systems and you've seen them fail, so how do we get the information that we need?

Kerre McIvor, is a journalist, radio presenter, author and columnist. Currently hosts the Kerre Woodham mornings show on Newstalk ZB - where this article was sourced.

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