Census officials aim for most inclusive survey to date

9:50 am on 8 March 2023
The 2023 census

Those who missed yesterday's midnight census deadline will still be able to fill in a form online or request the physical papers. Photo: Stats NZ

New Zealand's official census day was yesterday but the country is yet to find out whether it has reached the 90 percent target for response rates.

Stats NZ said 2.6 million people had participated as of yesterday's midnight deadline.

Those who missed the deadline will still be able to fill in a form online or request the physical papers, and those in areas affected by Cyclone Gabrielle have been given an extension until 1 June.

Stats NZ said it was aiming for this to be the most inclusive census to date, after the last one in 2018 had the lowest response rate in 50 years, at just 83.3 percent.

Minister of Statistics Deborah Russell earlier told RNZ she was confident of hitting a 90 percent completion rate for this year's census, but would not resign if response rates fell short.

Stats NZ said it had 3500 people working on the ground and forms were even left in tramping huts to ensure the census reached as many people as possible.

Speaking to people in Auckland's CBD yesterday, RNZ found while some people had submitted their forms well ahead of the 7 March deadline, others felt less urgency and had left it until the last day.

Some young Aucklanders said they were not aware the census was happening, and did not know much about the purpose of the survey.

Eighteen-year-old university student Tina said she had never done the census.

"I have heard a few things about it but not enough to help me understand what it is," she said.

Her friend Rana, who lives in a rental property, said she had not received any letters and also had not filled in the form.

"If it had been posted on Instagram I probably would've known," she said.

But for CBD worker Tom Fu, it was an "easy process" with census staff coming to his home with paper forms about two weeks ago.

Fu said he saw the importance of participation in the census.

"I very much do think it's important, like it gives us an insight on the general social structure of our society ... and it really shows us what kind of society it is," he said.

Some temporary visa holders left in the dark

While everyone in New Zealand is legally required to fill out a form on census day, Win, an international student from the Philippines told RNZ he was unaware of this.

"I'm just a student here, on a student visa ... I'm very confused of what I should do."

Yuki, who has been in New Zealand for six months on a work visa, said said also was not aware of the requirement.

She said she read on New Zealand Chinese media that it was against the law to not complete the census - but she was not sure if that information was accurate as the census was not mandatory in China.

Okwako Vitali who moved to New Zealand from Congo four years ago said he was gutted that - as far as he knows - no one in his house of nine flatmates received any letters about the census.

"I'm shocked, I don't know, I'm shocked, because how do they get the right figure if where we stay, for example, there are so many of us who haven't heard about this," he said.

Vitali said there should be more information for migrants who might not be in touch with the mainstream media, and that he felt left out by the process.

"I am an African ... I'm happy to look at the census report to see how many Africans do we have here, and maybe from which countries do they come from.

"So if I've missed that out, then I've missed out," he said.

Vitali said he hoped the government could send text message alerts about the census, just like the emergency alerts received over the recent weather events.

Others spoken to said they knew about the census, with landlords who had kept them informed.

Linda Laderas, who is on a student visa, said her landlord gave her a census form and she would be included in the official count of New Zealand's population.

"I should be counted in the data right, because I am here in New Zealand.

"I guess it's very important for all people who are here in the country, whether you have a student visa or residency," she said.

Stats NZ said one of its priority audiences for the 2023 Census was ethnic communities, including migrants and refugees.

It said it had partnered with ethnic community organisations such as Asian Family Services and the Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust to help communities participate.

It said it had also paid for marketing campaigns in ethnic media outlets across the country.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs