It’s worse than we thought

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson – Statistics NZ

Data fudging, infilling, use the actual count, some historical 2013 data, splice in some numbers from admin sources, impute a few more data sets and we will have an answer for you shortly. It may be right, it may be wrong. We really have no idea. Quote.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson is facing contempt of Parliament after being ordered by MPs to produce census information.

In an unusual move, a select committee invoked a standing order compelling Statistics NZ chief executive to produce the number of partial responses were [sic] received in Census 2018.

MacPherson was first asked by [sic] to provide the answer by the governance and administration select committee during its annual review in February, and again on Wednesday. Both times she declined.

The chief statistician now says she will provide the information ? which could further reveal the extent of Census 2018 issues ? not on the given April 10 deadline but as part of an announcement promised later in the month.

Stats NZ has remained tight-lipped about its efforts to patch up the long overdue Census 2018 results, which failed to count one in ten New Zealanders.

National state services spokesman Dr Nick Smith said the committee unanimously decided such an extraordinary measure was required after MacPherson again refused to answer on the basis it would require “extensive contextual information”.

“It is the first time ever that I have seen a select committee having to use its powers to require a public servant to provide an answer to a basic question.

I can only draw the conclusion that Stats NZ has something to hide.”

Smith said the partial response rate was pivotal for understanding how the [sic] reliable the census data would be, and the refusal to respond meant MacPherson had side-stepped accountability during the department’s annual review.

If the information was not provided by April 10, he would make a complaint to refer MacPherson to the privileges committee for contempt of Parliament. A person can be in contempt of Parliament for obstructing and impeding its work, or for refusing to answer a question.

“If the chief statistician does not comply with a unanimous select committee to provide a simple answer by next Wednesday she’s effectively giving the fingers to Parliament.”

MacPherson was unavailable for an interview on Friday but in a statement, remained firm that it was not the appropriate time to release the number of partial responses to Census 2018.

“It is my hope that the committee will appreciate that I have made this determination after careful thought and application of statistical best practice.”

“Without the appropriate context, these individual numbers would be open to misinterpretation,” MacPherson said.

She said the number of full and partial responses would now be provided in an announcement later this month, when Stats NZ would also detail when the first census results would be released.

“This is simply a question of timing ? When we produce information for the public we outline the methodology and limitations of any data produced,” MacPherson said.

University of Otago professor Andrew Geddis said it was “very unusual” for such an order to be placed on state sector chief executive.

“I can’t remember a time a public servant has refused after being told they must answer.”

If a complaint was taken to the speaker or the House, Macpherson could be forced to apologise or be censured by the privileges committee.

“That would be a very major escalation. I would expect that the House treat it as contempt.”[…] End quote.