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Legal obligations

The presence of a legislative requirement is a strong indication of an essential information need. This section refers to written obligations in legislation that have specific reference to the census. These are legal obligations under the Statistics Act 1975 and under the Electoral Act 1993.

Secondly, we look at other legislation that may involve implicit legal requirements for information for or about Māori, where that information may be best provided by the census. The Treaty provides the context for all these legal requirements.

Statistics Act 1975: age, sex, ethnic origin

The predominant piece of legislation relating to New Zealand’s census is the Statistics Act 1975 Part 3. To meet legal obligations under the Act, we must include a number of topics in each census.

See Section 24 Particulars to be collected at census:

  • Topics about the population: The name and address, sex, age, and ethnic origin of every occupant of the dwelling
  • Topics about the dwelling: Particulars of the dwelling as to location, number of rooms, ownership, and number of occupants on census night.

Looking at the individual level information, the law requires ‘ethnic origin’, ‘age’, and ‘sex’ to be collected for everyone in the census, and therefore includes Māori. This has been interpreted as a legal requirement for the census to provide counts for the Māori ethnic group, which can be broken down by age, sex, and location.

The Act does not define the variable ‘ethnic origin’; it is currently measured by Statistics NZ, and the census, using the New Zealand Standard Classification of Ethnicity (appendix 2).

Māori ethnicity may be cross-tabulated with other population characteristics to provide a wide range of statistics for policy formulation, programme-monitoring, planning, and research.

While there is a legal obligation for the census to collect the name and address of individuals, this information is not provided to the public (including Māori). Name is asked to help with collection and processing the information; individual addresses are coded to a geographic unit (meshblock) to allow output at a variety of geographic levels.

In contrast to the individual level ethnicity definition, there is no formal concept of a Māori dwelling in the census. We interpret this to mean there is no legal directive in the Act to provide dwelling information with a Māori dimension.

At present, the Act refers to a ‘quinquennial’ census and holding a census after 2013 ‘in every fifth year thereafter’. Information on the age and sex of the Māori ethnic group is provided every five years, under normal circumstances. (The 2011 Census was postponed to 2013 by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, making a seven-year gap.)

The Statistics Act 1975 was passed in the same year the Waitangi Tribunal was established and before any concept of Treaty settlement, which has significantly altered the way information needs about and for Māori are understood. While the Act has proved to be a robust and enduring piece of legislation, preparations for reviewing the Act are underway. Internal discussions at Statistics NZ have highlighted the need for the Act’s framework to fully consider a response to Māori that is consistent with Treaty obligations.

Electoral Act 1993: usual residence, Māori descent

Section 3 Interpretation of the Electoral Act 1993 defines Māori and the Māori electoral population, to determine Māori representation in Parliament. Calculating the Māori electoral population includes “…the total number of ordinarily resident persons of New Zealand Māori descent as determined by the last periodical census…”. The census therefore has an explicit obligation to collect information on both usual residence and Māori descent in order to fulfil this legal requirement.

The Act states that “Māori means a person of the Māori race of New Zealand and includes any descendant of such a person”. This is consistent with the definition of Māori descent that Statistics NZ and the census use (appendix 2).

Census data on the Māori descent population and the usually resident population (both currently provided at meshblock level) is used for calculating the number of electorates and to set the population quota for each electorate. Although not an explicit legal requirement, data at meshblock level is crucial to this process – without it, the Representation Commission would be unable to set the boundaries, as they are defined at meshblock level. Because the census is the only source of information at meshblock level for the entire population, there is an obligation for the census to provide this data for electoral purposes.

The Electoral Act stipulates that, in dividing the Māori electoral populations equally between the Māori electorates, due consideration shall be given to “any projected variation in the Māori electoral populations of those districts during their life “(Section 45 (6)(e)). The same provision applies to general electorates. Statistics NZ provides the Representation Commission with the latest population projections, which project what the population would be in the future compared with the quota. These projections are based on the census, and use the variables ‘Māori descent’ and ‘usual residence’ from the census.

Local Electoral Act 2001: usual residence, Māori descent

The Local Electoral Act 2001 also utilises census information in the local electoral process. Reviews of local government representation mainly use the usually resident population, which is based on either the most recent census or a more recent population estimate provided by Statistics NZ. To carry out these reviews, populations are normally required at the meshblock level or by new groupings of meshblocks.

Section 19X Certificate of Government Statistician of the Local Electoral Act details that the Government Statistician should provide:

(a) a certificate of the ordinarily resident population as shown by the figures for the most recently published census (other than the figures for a census carried out in the year before a triennial general election of a territorial authority or regional council or the year in which such an election is to be held)

The ordinarily resident population as shown by the last census uses the census population counts by usual residence, and is available at meshblock level.

Or (b) a certificate of the ordinarily resident population as assessed by the Government Statistician at any later date assessed by the Government Statistician.

If the census information is out-of-date, local councils are provided with the latest population estimates. Population estimates are based on census data, which includes information on usual residence at area unit level.

Where a local authority has Māori wards or constituencies, the general electoral population and the Māori electoral population from the most recent revision of electorates (Schedule 1A 2 (1) and 7) determine how many members are elected from these. As noted above, the census Māori descent variable is used to calculate the Māori and general electorate populations.

Māori Language Act 1987: language spoken

Te reo Māori is a taonga (treasure) guaranteed under the Treaty. The language is an essential part of Māori identity and culture and extends to all New Zealanders. The survival of te reo is clearly of paramount importance to Māori, and this places a significant obligation on the Crown as Treaty partner to protect it (Ministry of Justice, 2011). “Unlike other minority languages in New Zealand, the Māori language is indigenous only to this country, and its survival as a living language is dependent on actions or omissions of people in New Zealand” (Peterson, 2000, p.3). The Māori Language Act 1987 reflects the importance placed by both the Crown and Māori on the preservation and promotion of te reo.

Section 7 in the Māori Language Act 1987 sets out the functions of te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) which include “…to initiate, develop, co-ordinate, review, advise upon, and assist in the implementation of policies, procedures, measures, and practices designed to give effect to the declaration…of the Māori language as an official language of New Zealand”.

While there is no explicit legal obligation to provide information about te reo Māori, it could be reasonably implied that Te Taura Whiri requires information, collated at regular intervals, on the health of te reo Māori to fulfil this duty. This is an implicit need for information, rather than a legislative direction for the census to provide information. The census cannot provide the in-depth analysis of language use in the way sample surveys such as Te Kupenga can. However, the census is a prime source of information about spoken language because it includes the whole population (Māori and non-Māori), and can produce information at a detailed level (eg for all iwi, and for breakdowns by age).

Te Puni Kōkiri coordinates and monitors the Government’s Māori Language Strategy, along with organisations that include the Ministry of Education, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, Te Māngai Paho (the Māori Broadcasting Commission), and Māori Television. These organisations require information provided by the census and post-censal surveys to fulfil their roles and responsibilities. The census provides the only measure of te reo Māori that can be relied on for consistency and continuity. It is the benchmark and it covers the entire population down to low levels of geography.

Te reo Māori is cross-tabulated by Māori ethnicity and iwi to gauge language ability for Māori and across iwi. Te Taura Whiri looks at te reo Māori across all ethnicities, and by education, work, and the proximity of speakers – all at low levels of geography; they then assess what is needed to ensure the survival of te reo Māori in New Zealand. Te Taura Whiri and other organisations use this information to fund, evaluate, and promote te reo Māori throughout New Zealand.

Given the importance of te reo to Māori, and the Crown’s commitment as expressed through the Māori Language Act 1987, information about te reo Māori falls into the central `Crown-Māori priority’ of figure 2. Thus, te reo Māori as a spoken language is an essential ‘must have’ variable for future censuses.

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