Census held after two-year delay

5 March 2013

Census notice at the Lyttelton Information Centre (Canterbury Museum, 2013.17.123)

New Zealand’s five-yearly census had been scheduled for 8 March 2011. But after Canterbury’s devastating February earthquake (see 22 February), Government Statistician Geoff Bascand and Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson announced that it would not go ahead. Statistics New Zealand’s Christchurch operations had been significantly disrupted, and the exodus of people from the city would have skewed the results.

Cancelling the census so close to the due date cost around $65 million. All the forms had been printed and contractors had delivered them to half a million houses. Statistics New Zealand recognised there would be longer-term costs too, as government agencies would have to rely on old and potentially wrong data from 2006.

The census has only been cancelled on two other occasions – in 1931 as an economy measure during the Depression, and in 1941 because of the Second World War. Neither of these was rescheduled, leading to two decade-long gaps between censuses. The census planned for 1946 was, however, brought forward six months to September 1945 so electorate boundaries could be redrawn in time for the first post-war election. 

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