Stats Dept is squeaky clean UPDATED

Labour’s building and construction spokesperson Phil Twyford didn’t like the message so he attacked the messenger:

If any government department must be squeaky clean in terms of political neutrality at all times, it should be Statistics New Zealand, says Labour’s Building and Construction spokesperson Phil Twyford. . .

“There was a large slump in consents in September this year compared to September last year —- seasonally adjusted figures fell 17 per cent, including apartments, and fell 14 per cent when apartments are excluded — but the headline on the Statistics NZ press release read: Trends for new home approvals continue to rise.

Talk about spin!” Phil Twyford said. “Stats NZ’s enthusiasm could perhaps be excused in less partisan times, but during an election period when National is patting itself on the back for doing as good a job as anyone could in terms of keeping the economy ticking over, it is impossible not to see a lack of neutrality in the department’s media release. . .

Statistics New Zealand’s chief executive, Geoff Bascand, understandably took exception to this slur on the department’s neutrality:

As Government Statistician, I am fiercely protective of my statutory independence in the production and release of statistics.

Statistics New Zealand takes its responsibility seriously to explain and present statistics in a meaningful and accurate way.

Phil Twyford MP has questioned our choice to highlight the trend series of statistics in our 31 October release of Building Consents Issued: September 2011.

In this case, volatility over the past months meant that in our judgement, the trend series provided the most useful indicator of movements in building activity.

We also reported the seasonally adjusted series within the first paragraph of our media statement and our more detailed information release included the actual monthly number of building consents.

Statistics New Zealand has an obligation to release objective statistics. We will continue to do this at all times.

Phil needs to take a chill pill if a headline in a media release is sufficient to raise his ire.

If he was more interested in the truth than creating his own headlines he would have contacted Mr Bascand before making the serious accusation that the department was breaching public service neutrality.

The department is squeaky clean, its accuser is just squeaking.

UPDATE:

He’s not just wrong on the neutrality, he’s wrong on the stats.

Matt at The Visible Hand In Economics and Alex Tarrant at Interest.co.nz both point out Twford has misunderstood the data.

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