Census debacle claims Stats NZ’s head’s head

August 14, 2019

The Government Statistician and Chief Executive of Stats NZ, Liz MacPherson has resigned after the release of the report reviewing last year’s census debacle.

“As leader of this organisation, I take full responsibility for the shortfalls identified in the report,” said Ms MacPherson.

“We were too optimistic, placed too much emphasis on the online census, and did not have robust contingency plans in place for when things started to go wrong. When that happened, problems were not escalated to a higher level. We also failed our Treaty partners because we did not convert engagement with Māori into actual census responses.

“Put simply, we didn’t make it easy enough for everyone to take part and that will be a key focus for the next census.

“As the reviewers say, we got some things wrong at a time of great change during the switch to a more digitally-focused data collection approach. I accept the findings. We let ourselves and New Zealand down. . .

This is a commendable display of accountability.

Accepting responsibility is appropriate and appreciated by Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke:

This is sad but the right thing to do in the circumstances. There has to be accountability in the public sector, especially in the case of a chief exec that earns over $400,000. Today we see an example of that.”

“Running a census every five years is Stats NZ’s largest responsibility. Taxpayers will expect the next chief exec to focus on this core service, which should mean directing resources away from the department’s more wishy-washy work like measuring ‘spiritual health’.”

There was little option by the head’s resignation when the report says:

. . .It is our view that weaknesses in overall governance and strategic leadership at the programme level led to a series of decisions, some influenced by the North Canterbury earthquake, that when taken together ultimately compromised the achievement of the investment objectives and several important key performance indicators. It is also our view that some elements of the programme design introduced unnecessary complexity that made it difficult to execute and for citizens to respond. . .

But shouldn’t the Stats Minister be accountable too?

Statistics Minister James Shaw needs to take responsibility for his part in the abysmal handling of the Census 2018 debacle, National’s Statistics spokesperson Dr Jian Yang says.

“The resignation of Chief Statistician Liz MacPherson is appropriate given how badly Census 2018 was botched. But she should not be a scapegoat for James Shaw whose failure to show leadership played a significant part in this mess.

“The Minister needed to be more involved in his department. He should have asked more questions of his Statistics NZ leadership team and demanded better results from them.

“But he chose to be a hands-off Minister instead. He was missing in action when things were going wrong – off on a Pacific Island junket while his officials were left to clean things up.

“He let things spiral out of control to the point where much of the data may no longer be useful. That creates enormous problems for the billions of dollars in funding for health, education, police and other vital services that depend on reliable Census numbers.

“This failure also has massive implications for the next election with reliable data required to draw accurate electoral boundaries and decide the number of seats in Parliament.

“James Shaw was too relaxed about the problem. He brushed off any criticism as ‘scaremongering’, but today’s damning report shows there were very real issues he wasn’t across.”

When a department is carrying out its major undertaking, and doing it differently, the Minister ought to take a much closer interest than he appeared to have done.

It would also have been better had Stats NZ taken a more cautious approach to expecting people to respond on-line.

We were in the area chosen for a trial of the on-line census in 2013.

Officially it went well but locals involved told me there were big holes, not least in central Oamaru where most of the large Tongan population went uncounted.

There ought to have been enough warning signs from that to have a lot more staff on the ground with paper forms and to ensure that at the very least households which didn’t return forms received personal visits.

Not everyone has access to a computer; some people who do, use them for little more than emails; others are loathe to use them for anything involving personal data.

The first nation-wide  on-line census would have been better had people been given a choice between filling in paper forms or doing it on-line.

It wasn’t and so we’ve got huge holes in information and more than a year’s delay in the first release of data which includes the population numbers required for the updating of electoral boundaries.

That means that parties either wait to do candidate selection or risk having to re-do some close to the election when, as inevitable, at least one new electorate is created and others undergo major boundary changes.

Worse still, funding for health, education and social services are being compromised with no reliable population data.

This has been a very sorry saga the only good from which will be if lessons learned bring changes that ensure the next census results in a much better response rate and better data sooner.


Jian Yang’s maiden speech

February 19, 2012

National list MP Jian Yang delivered his maiden speech on Thursday.

Some of the highlights are in bold:

Mr Speaker,

As a Chinese who immigrated to New Zealand only 13 years ago, I feel extremely honoured standing here before you all to give my Maiden Statement today. 

Firstly,I would like to thank the Chinese community for their encouragement and support. 广大的华人华侨朋友们,我感谢你们的一贯支持和厚爱。这一刻也属于你们。(Dear fellow Chinese, I thank you for your consistent support.  This moment belongs to you as well).

I am grateful to my colleagues at the University of Auckland, particularly the staff of the Department of Political Studies. Special thanks go to Professor Barry Gustafson and Professor Raymond Miller, from whom I learned a great deal about New Zealand politics, and who both encouraged me to step out of theoretical politics and into realpolitics.

 I thank the Board directors of the National Party for their trust. In particular, I thank our President Peter Goodfellow. I cannot overstate Peter’s help in the past few months.

I also thank my Party colleagues for their warm welcome and support.

And I thank the Prime Minister for his trust and guidance.

Most of all, I thank my family; my parents in China who cannot be here today and my wife Jane and my daughters Suzie and Evelyn. I fully understand the sacrifices my family have to make, and it was not an easy decision to leave the Ivory Tower and jump into the turbulent sea of real politics. Thank you Jane, Suzie and Evelyn for your love and trust.

Mr Speaker, as the Prime Minister noted in his first speech to the new parliament, the National Party was the first party in New Zealand to have a Chinese MP. I would like to take this opportunity and acknowledge the achievement of Hon Pansy Wong.

My election into Parliament lays down yet another milestone in the history of Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. I am the first National MP who is an immigrant from mainland China.

The Chinese community in New Zealand has experienced rapid growth in the past two to three decades. We are attracted by, among other things, New Zealand’s second-to-none environment, democratic political system, equal economic opportunities and stable society.

Mr Speaker, as an immigrant who witnessed and experienced the many political upheavals in China, I do not take any of the benefits I’m enjoying now for granted. My grandfather was a general of the Nationalist Party, or KMT, which is today the ruling party in Taiwan. When the Communist Party came to power in China in 1949, my grandfather lost all his property, was imprisoned and lived in poverty for the rest of his life.

In the first thirty years of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government launched one political movement after another, climaxing with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966. The Revolution left behind millions of political victims, including my parents, who were sent to the countryside to be re-educated by peasants.

In 1978, under the rule of Deng Xiaoping, China made the historic decision to reform and open up. Capitalism began to flourish Deng’s virtue of pragmatism is highlighted by his most famous quotation “I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. It’s a good cat as long as it catches mice.” In that same year of 1978, I passed the newly-restored higher education examination and became part of the small group of high-school graduates who went on to university.

The change in China since 1978 has been awe-inspiring. China today is a different world. But the journey has certainly not all been smooth. In April 1989, a great opportunity was opened up for me when I received a scholarship from the John Hopkins University in America. However, in the weeks following, student demonstrations swept China. The Chinese government’s policy change afterwards prevented me from leaving to study in the United States.

Fortunately for China, after a period of hesitation the government decided to continue its reformation. In 1994 I started my postgraduate study in Australia, and in 1999 I completed my PhD and began my work at the University of Auckland.

My experiences reiterate the inescapable influence of politics on our lives, and greatly contrast the deep value placed on political rights and freedom that we enjoy in New Zealand. For this reason, I appreciate the National Party’s commitment to democratic principles and individual freedom and choice.

Politics and economics are two areas difficult to differentiate. Between 1949 and 1978, China was a socialist country with a planned economy. The Chinese people were called upon to march towards a Communist utopia; where everyone should contribute to society to the best of his or her ability, and consume from society in proportion to his or her need, that is, “From each according to his ability, toeach according to his need.”

Socialist economic policies did not aid China. By the year of my birth in 1962, China had wiped out private ownership in an effort to build a socialist economy. A horrific famine had just passed with the death of millions of people. In those years, everyone was equal but everyone was poor. The most spectacular present that I received for my 10th birthday was two eggs for breakfast.

By 1978, the Chinese economy was on the verge of collapse. It was at that critical moment that the Chinese government started economic reforms, salvaging the economy just in time. Market economy was introduced. Entrepreneurship was encouraged. The irrational pursuit of income equality was abolished. A popular official slogan at the time was “shui xian fu, shui guang rong 谁先富,谁光荣” meaning “It is glorious to become rich before others.”

We are all aware of China’s enormous economic growth since that pivotal year of 1978. China has risen to become the second largest economy in the world. The Chinese government has successfully lifted millions of people out of poverty.

Reflecting on the way in which China has achieved its positive change and development gives me a firm belief that the policies of the National Party are in the best interests of New Zealand. We give priority to economic growth. And to achieve this growth, we emphasise the importance of personal responsibility, competitive enterprise and reward for achievement. These are all values shared by the Chinese community and many other New Zealanders.

The Chinese were the third racial group to settle in New Zealand, after the Maori and European. Most of them came as gold miners in the second half of the 19th century. Historian Michael King said “Once in New Zealand, the Chinese who persisted despite the poll tax and considerable prejudice proved themselves to be law-abiding and hard-working citizens.”

We should not undervalue the contributions of the Chinese community to New Zealand. Not only has the Chinese community contributed economically, they have also enriched the lives of all New Zealanders through the celebration of Chinese arts, cuisine and traditions. Every year about 200,000 people from different ethnic communities came to the Auckland Lantern Festival as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

To the Chinese, strong work ethics coupled with good education are the two key elements to success. Surveys show that Chinese immigrants are often well educated, and it is no secret that Chinese children generally do well at school. The New Zealand Herald noted in April last year that “If education is our future, Chinese minds will be prominent in shaping New Zealand’s destiny.” This again reinforces the Chinese community’s vital role in the future development of our country. The Chinese community’s value in education echoes that of the National Party. We are committed to offering the best education to all New Zealanders, and we believe education provides the ability for all to move forward.

Despite the successes of the Chinese in New Zealand, all new immigrants need time to adapt to a new country. Considering their Eastern cultural background, it may be more challenging for Chinese immigrants to adapt to our mainly Western society. It is in the best interests of all for us to give them more support in this respect.

On the other hand, all immigrants should themselves try to integrate. Chinese immigrants are no exception. Members of the Chinese community should not only learn the languages and cultures of mainstream society, but also be willing to sacrifice for the country.

It is pleasing to note the global trend among overseas Chinese is to move away fromluoye guigen 落叶归根, “fallen leaves return to the roots”, but towards luodi shenggen落地生根, “to grow roots where they land”.The mentality of sojournism is no longer dominant. Many Chinese, including my family, gave up their Chinese citizenship and proudly became New Zealand citizens.  Mr Speaker, we are Kiwis, although made in China.

The Chinese immigrants do have a strong desire for recognition and integration, which is why they have been actively involved in philanthropy and politics. They have been generous in their donations to the victims of the Christchurch earthquake. There were also a record number of Chinese candidates in the most recent general election.

Mr Speaker, I feel truly honored to be a National Party representative of the Chinese community. I hope to see more Chinese in Parliament as the community is still under represented.

Mr Speaker, the rise of China has given New Zealand an ideal opportunity. China is now our second largest trading partner. Our trade with East Asia, especially China, played a crucial role in our effort to deal with the global financial crisis in recent years. In this respect, Chinese residents’ connection with China is a great asset to New Zealand. The connection has generated many economic opportunities and there is still a great potential.

As a Chinese immigrant, I will act as a bridge between the Chinese community and our mainstream society. I will also endeavour to contribute to the strengthening of New Zealand’s relations with China.

What is more, my background and experiences render me capable of making contributions in many other areas, be it education, foreign affairs, ethnic affairs, or health. 

To conclude, the values held by me and many Chinese New Zealanders are parallel to those of the National Party and other New Zealanders. These include equal citizenship and equal opportunity, individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, and reward for achievement. As a father of two, I see it as my responsibility to provide a safe and prosperous environment for my children to grow up in. With the National Party, I look forward to a brighter future.  Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The video is here.

 


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