New Law dilutes the importance of Statistics New Zealand

(Image from Statistics NZ website)

Tim Wilson
Auckland, August 8, 2022

Forget the surge in gun violence and ram raids; one of the century’s greatest crimes is happening right under our noses in Wellington.

Moreover, it has gone virtually unnoticed.

That is the impression from people as different as Former Labour PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer, ex-Government Statistician Len Cook, and Te Pāti Māori.

Objections ignored

“Nowhere else in the world have changes of this sort been made, or in this manner,’ thunders Cook. “A  sea-change,” notes Palmer, adding that the issue has not had enough scrutiny. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Pāti Māori is more succinct. “This Bill should not proceed.”

They are talking about the innocuous-sounding Data and Statistics Bill, which just passed its third and final reading in Parliament and will now become law.

Critics argue that this legislation will allow the government to dilute the independence of Statistics New Zealand, conferring some of its tasks to other Government departments.

Tim Wilson

“It will do serious damage to public trust in government by turning Statistics NZ into a data broker,” says the New Zealand Civil Liberties Council.

In short, politicians will be more able to control data. When that happens, controlling the narrative will get easier. Inflation may cease to be so…um… inflationary. Gun crime could be reclassified as a noise control matter. Black becomes in grave danger of being white.

Minister discounts criticisms

Statistics Minister David Clark disputes this, asserting that – far from being a Trojan Horse for Government meddling with truth – the bill is, in fact, attempting to protect it.

“The Data and Statistics Bill modernises and futureproofs our statistics system for decades to come. When the Government Statistician does delegate collection responsibilities to an agency this Act will ensure, for the first time, proper legal safeguards are in place for that to happen safely,” he said.

Len Cook calls such arguments “frivolous”, but Deputy Government Statistician Dr Craig Jones says the delegation powers are not new, and they have no plans to use them anyway.

To be fair, the bill was supported by Labour, National and the Greens: a cause either for celebration… or heightened suspicion.

Why this argument matters was demonstrated the same week as the third reading of the Bill.

Serious implications

Statistics NZ recommended a raft of improvements to the Ministry of Health’s own population dataset, which has been widely criticised for undercounting Māori Covid-19 vaccination rates.

That dataset is now to be updated, with 233,000 people being added to it. The result? The two-dose coverage in the eligible population aged over 12 falls from 95% to 90%.

Among Māori, coverage rates will drop from 88% to 83%, and for Pacific peoples, from 97% to 89%. In short, the government’s vaccine rollout is less impressive than it claimed.

However, the Public Health Agency’s Deputy Director-General Dr Andrew Old maintains that the Ministry’s dataset is “ideal” for supporting vaccination efforts.

Translation: It is all about the narrative.

With the Data and Statistics legislation now virtually enshrined, the question becomes: Who can you believe?

Tim Wilson is Executive Director of the Auckland-based Maxim Institute, an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, and compassion.

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