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Insights 13: 18 April 2019
Read: Oliver Hartwich writes in NBR about evidence-based policy and journalism
New report by Joel Hernandez: Tomorrow’s Schools: Data and evidence
Happy Easter!

When Census does not go as planned
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
A shocking 700,000 individuals - or 14.3 percent of New Zealand’s population - either partially completed or did not complete the 2018 Census.

More shocking than the numbers themselves was how this information was made public. It was only under threat of parliamentary contempt that Liz MacPherson, Chief Statistician of Statistics New Zealand, finally revealed that last year’s Census was in worse condition than previously identified.

To put this bungle into perspective, the 2018 Census counted 85.7 percent of our population, while the 2013 Census counted 97.6 percent; India’s 2011 Census counted 97.7 percent of their 1.2 billion population.

The 2018 Census clearly did not go as planned.

The implications of this failure are far-reaching for research and policymaking – and will be felt by New Zealanders all around the country.

Data from the Census is used to make decisions on school decile funding and DHB funding, set electoral boundaries, and collect iwi data.

Both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have resorted to using the outdated 2013 Census to determine future funding as a result of the more than a year-long delay.

The full details of all those who were not counted in the Census have not yet been released, but Maori, Pacifica and the elderly are likely to be disproportionately represented in the missing 700,000-person cohort. Historically, this has always been the case.

This poses a significant problem for researchers in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) using Census data for their research. Such a large data gap could lead to biases in results, which could then lead to biased policy recommendations.

This is where the Census is going to affect New Zealanders the most – policy, whether it is school funding or DHB funding, is designed to improve the outcomes for the most disadvantaged communities in New Zealand, the very people most likely missing in the 2018 Census.

Even after Statistics New Zealand fill in the data gap using imputation from existing Ministry administrative databases, researchers can never be certain that they are analysing the correct information and therefore making the correct policy recommendations.

Economists around New Zealand are rightly calling for the next Census to be brought forward to 2021. However, it is uncertain whether Statistics New Zealand could meet this target and produce a successful Census.

New Zealand needs reliable and robust data for good evidence-based policy. A reliable and robust Census is how we get it.

Israel Folau and the unintended perils of anti-discrimination laws
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
“Unintended consequences” are outcomes unforeseen by purposeful action, an idea popularised by American sociologist Robert Merton in the twentieth century. Since then, the so-called law of unintended consequences has morphed into a warning: intervening in a complex situation tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.

The application of the anti-discrimination provisions of Australia’s Fair Work Act to controversial Australian rugby star, Israel Folau, may be a perfect example of the law in action.

In his notorious outburst on Twitter last week, Folau claimed that a long list of “sinners,” including “homosexuals,” faced hell unless they repented. Folau’s tweet followed similar evangelising on Twitter a year ago, which also caused an outcry then.

Folau is clearly entitled to his views (repugnant as they are). But Rugby Australia should also be entitled to ask him to refrain from expressing them as an agreed term of its player code of conduct (or so you might have thought).

Following the breach of its code of conduct, Rugby Australia announced last Friday: "In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate [Folau’s] contract."

But the Fair Work Act means things are not that straightforward. Folau’s views appear to stem from his religious beliefs. A Pentecostal Christian, Folau believes the views in the Bible are his gospel, including scripture’s instruction to promote the word of God.

The Act’s prohibition on discrimination includes discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. And Folau will almost certainly look to the Act in his defence.

Australian legal commentators suggest Folau may have a good case. If he does, the Act’s anti-discrimination provisions will have the unintended (and ironic) consequence of giving Folau a claim against Rugby Australia for enforcing its code of conduct prohibiting his discriminatory speech. He may even be able to prevent them from sacking him.

In the wake of the 15 March massacre in Christchurch, Justice Minister Andrew Little has called for hastening the review of existing New Zealand statutes that make it an offence to say or publish words that incite discrimination.

As we embark on this conversation about hate speech, we need to heed the perils of unintended consequences. Broad prohibitions on discriminatory conduct might rebound on us, just as they may yet do for Rugby Australia.

Trump on everything
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Flames and smoke on the roof of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris: When I saw the pictures, still half-asleep, early Tuesday morning, my first thought was the fire was so high up that perhaps some aerial firefighting support was called for.

Upon further consideration, and with the benefit of having woken up by then, I realised that was a daft idea. If it had been sensible, then French firefighters would have thought of it already.

With my mind made up, I quickly put my phone down and resisted the temptation to issue unrequited advice to the Paris fire department via Twitter.

It was only later in the day that I noticed how, for once, Donald Trump and I had had the same gut instinct. Except the US President was awake, had no second thoughts, and tweeted straight away.

“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris,” @realDonaldTrump told the world. “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”

As always, Trump’s determination was admirable. In his “Must act quickly!” world, no time is ever to be wasted on deliberation.

There is only one problem: The most obvious solutions do not always work.

Even as they dealt with the unfolding firestorm, French emergency services quickly explained via Twitter why Trump’s “flying water tankers” would compound the disaster.

Since the emergency now involved the US President, the French Sécurité Civile even tweeted in English: “Hundreds of firemen of the Paris Fire Brigade are doing everything they can to bring the terrible #NotreDame fire under control. All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.”

Dropping tonnes of water on a weakened medieval structure was perhaps not the smartest suggestion after all.

It all reminded me of the great H.L. Mencken’s dictum: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

For Donald Trump’s fans, such hair-splitting hardly matters. His firefighting advice has by now been shared almost 40,000 times and liked more than 200,000 times.

The world is now awaiting his next batch of instructions. End hunger by baking cake (hat tip to Marie Antoinette). Solve rising sea levels by pulling the plug. Stop all wars by making peace.

Life can be so simple when you are Donald Trump.
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