The worst feature of this debacle called a census is that the people responsible for it don't seem to have a blind clue regarding just how abysmally they have performed. One fool from Statistics displayed that last week by batting off the suggestion that encouraging online responses had disadvantaged the elderly.

The problem, he said, was all in people's heads. They had to see completing the census online as a challenge. Yes, their lack of computer literacy was a barrier, but it was about learning new skills. And once they had broken through the barrier they would be away laughing.

That is an insult. It betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the world beyond the gilded halls of Wellington.

"It is galling in the extreme to hear these people in Wellington patting themselves on the back for having done a pretty good job. They haven't. And the fact that they won't admit that adds insult to injury."


This civil servant, for want of a better term, completely fails to grasp the magnitude of the 'barriers' it has erected, to the point where they will render any dependence upon census data for decisions regarding government funding and services a travesty.


But the department's failure goes much further than assuming that all the elderly of this country need to do to become computer savvy is to focus. It couldn't even distribute the letter that every household should have received, that provided the contact details needed to respond online, or to request papers.

Residents north of Waipapakauri reportedly received their letters on Thursday, two days after Census Day. So did the Karikari Peninsula.

Earlier in the week radio was quoting a bloke from Kamo, that little known backwater far from all modern amenities, as saying that the Whangarei suburb hadn't got them.

What is so hard about delivering a letter to every household? There will always be some that take some effort to find, but Kamo? The Aupouri and Karikari peninsulas? Gordon Bennett, do these people need a map?

It is galling in the extreme to hear these people in Wellington patting themselves on the back for having done a pretty good job. They haven't. And the fact that they won't admit that adds insult to injury.

Last Wednesday afternoon, more than 12 hours after the census deadline, radio was still broadcasting advertisements making reference to the "possibility" that some Northlanders had not received their letters. But they were not to worry. If it hadn't arrived yet it soon would. What an extraordinary display of incompetence.

Statistics now says it will be following up with those who have not completed the census, online or using the forms that could be ordered via the website or an 0800 number.

But they couldn't even get that right. One Kaitaia businessman had not received his letter as of Monday last week, so went to the website and asked for a code, so he could do it online. His request was acknowledged, albeit with the advice that giving him a code could take about a week.

Some Kaitaia folk spoken to told the Northland Age last week that they had requested forms, and had had no response.

So now Statistics plans to confront those who have not completed the census, but how do they know who these people are? If they haven't received the letter, and don't have a code, presumably they won't be missed.

Can we really trust these buffoons to track down those who couldn't be found by the long-suffering locals who were contracted to put letters in their hands?

There's more. Goodness knows how much Statistics spent on advertising the fact that a census would be conducted on March 6, 2018, but how ever much it was it didn't do the job. It took no effort at all last week to find people who had no idea that the census was being taken; even a tertiary student union leader was quoted last week as saying that the people he represented had no idea it was happening.

No one was talking about it, he said, and none that he knew of had received their invitation to the dance. Perhaps we shouldn't read too much into the apparent fact that thousands of university students don't know what day it is, but these people deserve, and need, to be counted.

Not to worry. Someone will be confronting them any day now to ask why they haven't complied, as another flock of pigs soars overhead, no doubt.

And as for the online 'barrier', these people need to understand that countless (pun intended) thousands of people have problems that go beyond a lack of computer skills.

It will come as news to Wellington, but computer literacy, indeed any sort of literacy, is not always universal in some communities. To profess to believe otherwise is arrogant and ill-informed.

Statistics also apparently believes that those who received their envelopes but did not wish to go online would be sufficiently motivated to go to the website (if they could) or would call the 0800 number (if they could) to request papers.

News flash — countless (again) thousands of people just aren't that motivated when it comes to filling out forms, particularly government forms. And if they have only a vague idea, if any, regarding what a census is or why it is important, they won't bother.

Gaining meaningful data from a census requires mass participation. This is why failing to complete a census is a criminal offence. Those who have not done their bit this time probably don't have to worry about being prosecuted though. This bureaucracy of ours won't be able to find them.

So where is the Minister? It would be a bit rough to pin this extraordinary shambles on James Shaw. All the ingredients for a cock up of Biblical proportions were in place long before he took over, and last week, when the wheels really began falling off, he wasn't even in the country.

He was busy telling other Pacific peoples what the government of which he is a part can do for them. One hopes they are not planning a census.

However, while he might not be the conductor, he is responsible for fixing this mess. The best means of doing that might be to write this census off as a bad joke and start again.

It will be no surprise to find that the Far North's population has fallen since the last census in 2013.

Populations fell in every Far North community except Kerikeri between 2008 and 2013, and will surely do so again. In that event, the Far North District Council should be squealing like a stuck pig.

It will have to squeal with great gusto to beat the Northland DHB though. It reckons the 2013 census missed 30,000 Northlanders, costing it almost $30 million in government funding over three years.

The DHB, and we, cannot afford a repeat of that, and if the population data are even remotely questionable they should be rejected.

One last thing.

What exactly does Statistics expect to garner from this census, apart from a grossly inaccurate head count and how many bathrooms the average household has?

At least the questions should be meaningful, which by and large this year's are not. And most of the information sought is already available to the government from other sources.

This no doubt vastly expensive exercise has not only been executed with stunning incompetence, it isn't even designed to produce anything of value. Even last week's cheerful, deluded Statistics spokesman must understand by now that he's the only one who's laughing.