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Census collector helping out a Pacific family
Photo: Supplied

SocietyMay 16, 2023

A final call for Pacific people to complete the census

Census collector helping out a Pacific family
Photo: Supplied

Stats NZ wants to better understand the Pacific population to plan and fund services and infrastructure – but they need the communities’ input to do so.

There’s an urgent plea from Stats NZ for Pacific people in Aotearoa who haven’t completed their census form to do so by June 1.

More than a quarter of Pasifika people have yet to complete the census. Stats NZ announced recently that only 73% of people who identify as Pacific had filled out the survey.

Regional manager of community engagement Asilika Aholelei says there are reasons behind the lack of uptake. At events such as ASB Polyfest and Pasifika Festival this year, people have visited the census stall and shared their mistrust in the government, as well as privacy concerns with handing over their personal information to another party.

Stats NZ being present at Pacific events was a deliberate move to ensure people could come and complete their forms in spaces that are comfortable for them. “There is fatigue in engaging with the government following Covid-19. There are still remnants of unhappiness with the government following the mandates,” she says.

Aholelei says that in general, the Pacific community continues to struggle with the cost of living, resulting in not having the mental space to register that the census was even happening this year. The devastating flooding in the North Island and Cyclone Gabrielle that hit parts of the country with dense populations of Pacific communities was another factor. “This added to more pressure on our Pacific peoples and so it’s understandable that the census is not a priority right now for all,” Aholelei says.

“We understand the different reasons as to why Pacific peoples haven’t completed their census, but through talanoa [discussion] and educating them on the power of data and making sure they are seen in the data, we were able to not only have Pacific people complete their forms, but be better informed for the reasons to do it.”

The data is important to collect, not just as a headcount exercise. Polly Atatoa Carr, who is a member of the Pacific Data Sovereignty Committee, emphasised the importance of providing detailed, accurate information about Pacific groups. “Without our communities being able to be counted in the census, then understandings of both the strengths of Pacific people, such as their language, and support structures within households are incomplete,” she says. 

The supply of appropriate services such as in health and education for Pacific people requires a clear understanding of size, the issues experienced in the communities, where families are residing and how systems need to improve to meet Pacific peoples’ needs. “Without a successful census, meeting our collective responsibilities towards population health gain and equity of outcomes across our communities will not be achieved.”

One of the key features and shifts Stats NZ had planned for the census was to have more, earlier, and ongoing community engagement activity, including supporting communities to drive their own response to the census.

Stats NZ partnered with Pacific organisations, NGOs, community groups, churches, community leaders and Pasifika influencers to reach the Pacific communities and ensure they all had the best possible experience when completing their census. So far, these partnerships have resulted in a higher (though still not ideal) turnout than 2018’s 63.7%.

Close to 20 Pacific language churches in Tāmaki Makaurau hosted church census days. The Cause Collective, a Pacific social change agency in South Auckland, led the church census days. They followed the same model used to mobilise Pacific communities to get their Covid-19 vaccinations by inviting church leaders to front their census days. The churches include Ekalesia Faapotopotoga Kerisiano Sāmoa (EFKS) Onehunga, East Tamaki, 33 branches of Sāmoa Assembly of God (AOG) and Cook Islands Seventh Day Adventist.

This year, Stats NZ will be presenting census data back to communities. “The data will be released later next year and the Pacific staff will go back to all our Pacific organisations and stakeholders to inform them of the findings. This ensures a meaningful and ongoing relationship with our communities, but also builds their capability and understanding of the power of data,” Aholelei says. 

Director of the AUT Pacific Health Research Centre El-Shadan Tautolo is optimistic that Pacific people do want to contribute to the census, but says it’s up to government agencies to build their confidence. “Relationships of trust and investment are required for Pacific communities to be able to prioritise census completion.”

The lack of trust may not be helped by the potential for punitive measures if communities don’t fill out their census. Stats NZ has stated that from May 9, people who haven’t completed all their census forms would receive a final notice and risk being fined $2,000 under the Data and Statistics Act 2022.

People can organise a visit from a census collector by calling the 0800 236 787 (0800 CENSUS) helpline. “There are twice as many census collectors and field staff in communities compared to last time as well as more events in communities to help people do their census,” Aholelei says. “We want everyone to be counted – that’s the goal. We want every single Pacific person to be counted, so that they are fairly represented in the Census data story.”

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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