The census set for early March has been cancelled and will not be held this year.
Government statistician Geoff Bascand made the announcement today saying a large part of the census operation was run from Christchurch and had been badly damaged in the quake.
The quake had also left people displaced and their futures unclear which made the March 8 census difficult, he said.
The census was also cancelled in 1931 due to the depression and in 1941 during the war.
It cost $90 million over five years to run the census, $42m of that budget had already been spent and much of the remaining $48m was also committed.
It was not clear what the cost of cancelling the census would be nor how much would be needed to hold it later. A decision was not likely before the May Budget.
Bascand said they would meet any contractual obligations _ including paying temporary staff as required. The 7000 census collectors around the country earn an average $1200-$1500 for their work.
''We regret having to take this decision but I'm sure it is the right one.
''Census is a crucial part of New Zealand's information set, it's an iconic exercise... this decision has not been taken lightly, we're conscious of the consequences, the cost and the loss of information.''
The existing information would continue to use and would become dated and inaccurate, he said.
Census data is used when deciding electoral boundaries and their five-yearly review would now have to be postponed.
No decision has been made on when a replacement census would be held but it would not be this year.
Statistics New Zealand's office in Dollan House was seriously damaged and access restricted. The census building in
Riccarton was also damaged.
None of the permanent staff were injured.
Bascand said they considered holding the census in the rest of New Zealand except Canterbury but decided it was not possible due to the damage in Christchurch and displacement of people.
Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said it was unthinkable to ask the people of Canterbury to complete the census at this time.
''Way more important to that, there has been significant disruption to Statistics New Zealand's Christchurch operations that would affect the department's ability to safely and accurately complete the census.''
- © Fairfax NZ News