Tracking down every last Kiwi

23:00, Feb 22 2013

Barry Staples does not have to travel far to deliver census forms, but he does have an unusual form of transport.

Because his area includes Jackett Island, in what census officials call a "wet mesh block", he takes his kayak around the corner from his Motueka home to paddle across the channel to the island, which has 14 properties.

Mr Staples is among 300 census workers who have been hired in the top of the south and the West Coast for six weeks to try to collect information about every single person in the region on census night, March 5.

Census workers have to make up to three attempts to personally deliver forms to people, and up to three to collect them again.

But Mr Staples hopes he will not have to paddle the channel 12 times.

He said he had been liaising with the handful of permanent residents on the island to work out the best time to deliver the census forms.


"I'm a gentleman of leisure these days, so I thought I'd do something for a little extra cash - and you get to know your own area better, too."

Kayaking to Jackett Island is among the simpler challenges census workers face. They have to track down trampers in national parks, account for fishers at sea, and take four-wheel-drive vehicles into the hills beyond Murchison and Tapawera, up "some very long driveways with lots of gates to open", said the area manager for Nelson, Marlborough, Golden Bay and West Coast, Anne Smith.

Workers started delivering forms to 42,000 homes in the Nelson region on February 16, and must have delivered all their forms by census night. They then have 12 days to collect them.

People have the option of filling in the census online, which triggers a text to the workers to let them know they do not need to collect the forms. This method was quicker, said Mrs Smith.

The aim is to produce a statistical picture of New Zealand, which is then used by government departments to help set budgets.

Mrs Smith said it was important that every person completed their census form, which was a legal requirement. People "have been and will be be prosecuted for not filing".

Some people refuse because they think their information will not be kept private. However, Mrs Smith said the data collected was separated from any identifying information, and all census workers signed strict confidentiality agreements.

Others refused as a form of protest against the government, she said, but "that shoots themselves in the foot. If they are not counted, their community misses out on money. Billions of dollars are allocated based on census data, so we need those figures to be accurate".

The last scheduled census was to have been held in March 2011, but it was cancelled five days into the delivery period when the Christchurch earthquake struck.

Mrs Smith said that because it had been seven years since the last census, local bodies were "crying out for the data".

Mrs Smith's 16 district supervisors recruited and trained teams of 18 to 20 people each, selected partly for their local knowledge. Department of Conservation rangers and council harbourmasters help the census workers track down far-flung people.

"Weekends are gold, because people are working during the week. [Census workers] tend to go out between 6pm and 8.30pm, but if they don't find anyone home then, their next visit will be at a different time," Mrs Smith said.

The workers are employed on contracts that vary with the different challenges of their assigned blocks. Some in the Marlborough Sounds will be out on the water for two or three 12-hour days, while urban workers will be out for three hours each evening.

Mrs Smith said people tended to take on the job because they loved meeting people and wanted to do something good for their community.

The Nelson Mail