Statistics New Zealand - Responsibilities and Activities

Responsibilities and Activities

Reports offered by Statistics New Zealand
Population
Census counts, Migration, Estimates & projections, Births
Industry Sectors
Retail trade, Construction, Information technology & communications, Agriculture, Manufacturing & production, Wholesale trade, Film & television, Science & biotechnology, Energy, Horticulture
Economic indicators
Prices indexes, Balance of payments, CPI (inflation), Gross Domestic Product, National Accounts
Education & training
Secondary education, Primary education, Tertiary education
Businesses
Business characteristics, Business growth & innovation, Business finance, Research and development
Work, income & spending
Employment, Income, Strikes, Consumer spending
People & communities
Households, Families, Marriages & relationships, Pacific peoples, Language, Maori, Women, Children, Divorces
Government finance
Local government, Central government, Crown research institutes, District health boards
Tourism
Accommodation, Tourism
Health
Abortion, Injuries, Disabilities, Life expectancy, Gambling
Environment
Natural resources, Manufacturing energy use, Sustainable development
Imports & exports
Overseas cargo, Exports, Imports
Corporate
Corporate
Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption
Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption
Crime
Crime & justice
Households
Household Internet Access
Source:
Statistics New Zealand website (August 2009)

The department conducts the census every five years (in years ending in 1 or 6). The census is officially done on one day -- the most recent census was on 7 March 2006. The count of usual residents (excluding visitors from overseas) on this day was 4.027.947; they lived in 1,471,746 private occupied dwellings; their median age was 36 years (half older, half younger); 565,329 identified themselves as "Maori"; people had a median net income of $24,400. This is a main source of information, and data collected from this census is often used for further purposes within the department as well as serving as benchmark information for numerous reports and surveys. For example, the census asks about the main means of travel to work, but by combining this with data from transport surveys, the department can issue detailed reports such as "Commuting Patterns in New Zealand: 1996-2006", with specific inferences such as "Over half of people who walked or jogged to work lived within 2km of their workplace." This information is helpful for business purposes, government decision making, media purposes, foreign policy, journalism, public information, planning, and for many other uses. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of New Zealand uses statistics from this agency about prices and wages to help develop economic indicators, exchange rate information, and the official cash rate.

The department supplies a wide variety of information. It reports on labour costs, incomes, civil unions and marriages, employment, electronic card transactions, food prices, retail trade, births and deaths, prices of capital goods, overseas trade, screen industry, international visitor arrivals, overseas merchandise, agriculture and fish stocks, water resources, building consents, electronic card transactions, English language providers, wholesale trade, local authority information, balance of payments data, manufacturing surveys, commuting patterns, mapping trends, culture and identity statistics, housing trends, work stoppages, gross domestic product, industrial energy use, and the list goes on and on. In addition, it analyzes trends and publishes forecasts. The agency does not involve itself with political polling generally.

The agency provides information to the public. Many surveys and reports are available free of charge on its website; users can download spreadsheets electronically. In addition, some private market research firms use the agency's vast database information as source material, combining it with value-added presentational software (such as sophisticated mapping programs), and then sell the re-packaged information.

Information from demographers is used as source material by journalists for articles. Sometimes statistics can influence public policy. For example, Statistics New Zealand demographers in 2008 spotted a trend of fewer women having children and wrote: "Deciding not to have children happens as a consequence of other life events.... Education, career, mortgages, changes in family and partners for many couples, childlessness is what happens while they are making other plans." Their report was picked up by journalists at the Sunday Star-Times to form the basis of an article with the headline "New Zealand women stop having babies". The article discussed ramifications, such as possible workforce shortages and increased cost of elderly care, as well as possible policy actions such as a "Working For Families" program. Newspaper headlines can influence public opinion which may impact policy decisions. Statistics New Zealand information is used by government to explore tough problems; a research paper dated April 2009 used agency statistics when exploring how to handle gang violence.

Agency data is quoted by a wide variety of sources, even in the footnotes of books. For example, in "Connecting the Clouds - the Internet in New Zealand", author Keith Newman cites agency statistics regarding telecommunications cost decreases (the Stats NZ report said "New Zealand average residential phone call pricing plummeted 50% between 1987 and 1993") and national finances (the Stats NZ report said "The current account deficit for the year ended March 2007 was $13.9 billion (8.5 percent of GDP)"). Data is used to help retailers spot trends and act accordingly. A newspaper article on decreased do-it-yourself (DIY) retail spending in 2008 quoted an agency source: "Figures from Statistics New Zealand show DIY spend has been tracking down with the retail sector." This information helps businesses adjust to new realities. Radio programmes such as "Radio New Zealand National" have quoted agency data.

The agency encourages use of statistics by the media by offering awards to journalists who use its data intelligently. Each year, two awards for "best use of statistics in a story" are presented with cash prizes of NZ$1,500 and $750.

Some agency policies result in controversy. One gay activist felt Statistics New Zealand was "breaking the law" by omitting a question on the 2006 census regarding sexual orientation; the article in the New Zealand Herald elaborated "Mr van Wetering and the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, the independent legal branch of the commission, expect to discuss the inclusion of the (sexual orientation) question in the 2011 Census with lawyers for Statistics New Zealand later this year." There were some indications that the agency was seriously considering including a question on sexual orientation. The agency did focus groups exploring this possibility. Sometimes controversies involve disputes over whether agency data was cited properly. One blogger, claiming to be a former Wellingtonian journalist who identifies himself or herself as "Poneke", accused the Sunday Star-Times of publishing misleading data about crime statistics. Poneke noted that “Statistics New Zealand now provide(s) the ability to query the New Zealand Police Statistics – allowing you to gather detailed crime information about your local area since 1994.” The blogger felt the agency was "impeccably impartial", but distrusted various media sources.

One way the agency makes data available to the public is by offering a Table Builder tool. It lets users access specific information from past surveys. For example, it's possible to "build" a table about population changes in the Wellington region of married persons using Table Builder -- married Wellingtonians (not separated) increased in number from 148,014 (in 2001) to 151,884 (2006). Further, of the 151,884 in the year 2006, 648 lived in the Lambton section. Essentially it allows users to efficiently retrieve specific information from past surveys and censuses. It's a quick way to retrieve counts and permits what some market researchers call "breakdowns". Columns can be chosen; rows can be chosen; and a table can be pulled together filtered by different variables. The agency does not yet offer end-users the capability to directly mine raw data to generate new statistics. Perhaps in the future users will have the power to access a virtual database of updated census counts, that is, to access a virtual database created "as if the census was taken when the table was being pulled together" -- and by using filters, weighting, projections, and easy-to-use software tools, create data which describes "what's happening now". In the example, with such capabilities, one could say how many married (never-separated) Wellingtonians living in Lambton there were "right now". Further, projections could be made. But there is no evidence in the Statistics New Zealand website that such a capability is yet offered, but it is possible this may happen in the future.

The following counts were derived by using Statistics New Zealand's Table Builder tool:

New Zealand population by sex
Census year Men Women
1996 70061809309000000001,809,309 70061872237000000001,872,237
2001 70061863306000000001,863,306 70061957443000000001,957,443
2006 70062021277000000002,021,277 70062122005000000002,122,005

Statistics New Zealand develops statistical classifications and standards, and works with the corresponding national statistical offices with such nations as Australia, the United States, and Canada. It conducts ongoing research regarding the viability of these standards. Since the early 2000s, it has begun using the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupation to describe a wide variety of jobs; for example, the code 111111 describes a chief executive or managing director, while the code 531111 describes a general clerk. By using standardized codes, high speed computers can sift and sort through large databases to produce summary reports.

It also provides technical assistance to developing countries in the Pacific rim, with a special focus on Pacific Island nations.

Statistics New Zealand is acknowledged as the statistical authority within government. While other branches of government generate statistics, Statistics New Zealand works with them to expedite the information as well as provide consulting services when appropriate. It is responsible for the first integrated programme of Official Social Statistics. It provides assistance, guidance and oversight to other government agencies regarding statistics when appropriate. For example, it works with the New Zealand Health Information Service regarding their management of statistical information - a downloaded spreadsheet showed there were 65,120 live births registered in 2007 in the nation, and the table listed Statistics New Zealand as a source of this information. It worked with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to collect and publish cultural data.

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