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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard


(continued on 28 July 2022)


In Committee

Debate resumed.

Part 1 Preliminary provisions (continued)

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Statistics): Kia ora to the committee, and welcome back. I just wanted to make some initial comments that respond to some of the points that came up late last night, just so that they’re on record in terms of the purpose of the bill and where we go from here. The member David Seymour, who, I know, will take a call shortly, raised the question about the difference between research and official statistics, and I placed an answer on record. I’d like to put a more fulsome one down. The deceptive simplicity of his question caught me off guard at the time. So, there we go, it’s a perfectly valid and important question.

Official statistics are defined in the bill as statistics that are produced by the Statistician or a public sector agency or by an individual or organisation approved in writing by the Statistician to produce those statistics. They are the output of the organised collection, analysis, and presentation of data, usually to describe an aspect of the economy, population, society, or environment. They’re often internationally benchmarked, including measures such as GDP, labour force participation, or the price of a usual basket of goods and services. Research, in this context, describes a wider, analytical approach whereby underlying data are used in new ways to create new insight and knowledge. It often involves using data to identify trends and observations over time or across different populations, to understand their relationship between variables—classically, whether X causes Y to happen—or to evaluate programmes and policies.

I also wanted to respond to a couple of points that the member Joseph Mooney raised that I didn’t have a chance to respond to last night. He raised concerns about the Privacy Act not applying overseas—that is, essentially, a summary of the point he was making, as I understood it. While the New Zealand Privacy Act doesn’t apply to a person overseas, clause 52 requires the Statistician to take extra care when deciding whether to allow access from overseas, taking into account the laws that apply in that relevant jurisdiction—this is laid out in the Act—and the relationship between Stats NZ and the overseas person, and any means available to the Statistician to ensure that the overseas person complies with any conditions imposed in that context by the Statistician. So I think it’s important to emphasise what has already been said in the debate: that data will not be provided to the researcher; Stats NZ continues to hold the data, and it can only be accessed through a secure portal. The member also noted that there was no obligation on the researcher to delete the data. This would only make sense if the researcher held the data. But, again, I stress: the data continues to be held by Stats NZ.

There were a couple of points that Joseph Mooney raised. Another one that wasn’t addressed last night, as we ran out of time, was that the member suggested, implied, that the Statistician is able to compel other agencies to provide data for research, and this is a concern that has been more widely aired. It’s simply not true. There is no ability for the Statistician to require the provision of data for research. The mandatory collection powers only apply to collecting data for official statistics. Agencies choose whether to provide data more broadly to Stats NZ. Many agencies have done so because they have trust and confidence in Stats NZ to safeguard and protect that data appropriately. What all this means is that the agency, essentially, gets to choose whether they pass on data to Stats NZ, and they can do that in accordance with whatever agreement they’ve made with the people they’ve collected the data from. So they can honour any commitments they made to people when the data was collected, and that might be that the data is only to be used for certain purposes, and that might not include research. So that is, in that respect, the decision of the department.

One other thing, which was covered briefly in response to a concern raised by Joseph Mooney last night, was his concern about principle 6 of the United Nations’ fundamental principles of official statistics having no mention of research. As I stated yesterday, it’s laid out in the implementation guidelines for the UN’s fundamental principles of official statistics—the aspect that relates to research—and the implementation guidelines make it very clear that non-statistical organisations must have a legal framework setting out their professional independence, to allow for impartial and equal access to statistics, but that access to data for research may have a different threshold for access. And I quote: “A law or formal provision is in force, which specifies that statistical agencies are professionally independent and impartial, develop, produce and disseminate statistics following professional standards, and treat all users in the same way. But this does not mean that there is no distinction between different types of users. For example, only accredited researchers might have access to anonymized microdata for research, while the general public would not be allowed such access. Among categories of users, each user must be treated ‘in the same way’ in accordance with published guidelines.” That’s directly from those guidelines.

The implementation guidelines have got an entire section on how to ensure confidentiality when enabling access to data for research and, consistent with these guidelines, Part 3 of the bill specifies the conditions—we’ll come to that, obviously, when we debate Part 3—required to protect confidentiality. Part 5 of the bill clearly sets out the framework by which data held by Stats NZ may be accessed for the purposes of research, and these are provisions that have been carefully thought through over the past six years or more. This bill, we know, goes right back to Craig Foss’ time as Minister of Statistics and has been carefully and thoughtfully developed from that time on, including under the stewardship of the Hon James Shaw. So, with those few comments, I open the debate.