‘Trust’ needed to boost Pacific engagement in census

More Pacific people have returned this year’s Census forms, but some say it could be better

29th June, 2023

Khalia Strong

‘Trust’ needed to boost Pacific engagement in census

The Pacific response rate for this year's census is 79%. Photo/Census NZ​

​It’s the final day for returns for Census 2023. 

People have until the end of Friday to return their census paperwork via post or online, but the latest figures from Stats NZ show less than four out of five Pacific people took part. 

“This year proved to be a difficult one,” says Stats NZ Pacific Engagement senior advisor Faumuina Lafaele Mapusua. 

“Not only because we were post-pandemic, post mandates, so there’s a fatigue there of engagement … but also because we had the cyclone, we had the floods, there’s also the living crisis. 

"There’s a lot of things that are top of mind for New Zealand as a whole, but especially for our Pacific communities as we feel the brunt of those.”

Pacific peoples’ return rates for this year’s census are at 79%, an improvement from 65.1% in 2018, but lower than 88.3% in 2013. Faumuina hopes the rates will increase as they continue to boost Pacific engagement. 

“Throughout the history of the census, it didn't serve our Pacific communities - I'm historically taking into account the Dawn Raids, so there is always a trust factor there, you know, ‘Do we trust firstly the government, and then do we trust the government with our information?’ 

“So our job at Stats New Zealand is to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to ensure that when they do and if they do provide their information to us, it is 100% protected.”

The government invested $110 million to improve the Pacific and Māori response rates: partnerships with churches, community groups, and Pacific businesses. Incentives such as supermarket vouchers, doughnuts, even tickets to the Warriors game were used to boost engagement. 

The number of census workers was doubled, and Faumuina says he’s proud of what they were able to accomplish.

“We made sure that we engaged properly, in a bespoke way. Obviously there’s alway room for improvement and I’m not going to say that our engagement efforts were perfect, but in comparison to 2018, a lot more work was done.”

‘Trust’ needed to boost Pacific engagement in census

People are still keen to complete their census on paper. Photo/PMN News/Khalia Strong

​Trying to buck the trend

Statistics Minister Dr Deborah Russsell says the improvements are encouraging, but they’re mindful of international trends showing a drop in census participation. 

“There is clearly more work to do, particularly around the estimated 74% returns for those of Māori descent and 79% for people of Pacific ethnicity. They have also lifted from 2018 but are still not as high as we would want.”

Waikato University population data analyst Polly Atatoa Carr says some people may have trust issues when filling in census data.

“There are some ongoing conversations that we need to have in communities about trust in the data collection of the census and in the privacy and confidentiality aspects of the census itself.

“But also trust and confidence in providing our data to government agencies and what the purpose of that is.”

Faumuina hopes the work they have done will continue beyond this census.

“Obviously we’re not going to force people to do the census, the work has been put in to educate and to build trust as best we can.”

The first official release of census data will be in May 2024.