NZ Public Service improves data sustainability with Data and Statistics Bill

Data and Statistics Bill

The New Zealand Data and Statistics Bill has passed Royal Assent, completing its passage through parliament to become an official Act. The Data and Statistics Act replaces The Statistics Act 1975, becoming the legislative framework covering government data and statistics from 1 September 2022.

The Statistics Act 1975 (the 1975 Act) was drafted in an environment that predates modern technology, focusing on the paper-based collection and official statistics as the only data required to support decision-makers.

However, with advances in digital technology and data analytics, new and diverse data sources, and changing information needs, the demand and use of data have grown significantly.

The Data and Statistics Bill is the NZ legislative response to a changing situation, building on the existing resilient and reliable data and statistics systems and practices.

Work began on The Data and Statistics Bill back in 2016 with the intent to:

  • recognise the Crown’s responsibility to consider and provide for Māori interests in data and statistics;
  • enable more effective data system leadership;
  • strengthen and future-proof the framework for collecting data for official statistics;
  • modernise the framework for accessing data for research; and
  • continue to provide appropriate safeguards and protections to ensure public trust and confidence in data collection and use for official statistics and research.

It was also necessary to amend several other Acts to remove barriers to the provision of data.

Much of the data used by the Government to produce national statistics and conduct policy research is now administrative. This means it is collected by government agencies and shared through voluntary agreements. However, these agreements can take months or years to be agreed upon and withdrawn without notice.

The 1975 Act was also almost entirely silent on the integration and use of data for research, despite this being one of Stats NZ’s primary functions. Since 2013, Stats NZ has been home to the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), an extensive research database holding microdata about people and households.

The data comes from government agencies, Stats NZ surveys, and non-government organisations (NGOs), which are then linked together or integrated to form the IDI. Several hundred researchers regularly use the IDI to gain insight into the NZ society and economy.

The new Data and Statistics Bill creates the flexibility to draw upon data sources while also putting in place controls to ensure a sustainable data supply.

The new Bill covers a similar scope to the Australian Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022. However, it does not go as far as to encompass data sharing to deliver government services, limiting itself to the production of official statistics and research.

The new Bill also grants new powers to the Government Statistician to provide greater assurance over the management and supply of data. Under the new law, Government agencies can now be required to provide data. However, it also means they must consult the Government Statistician before making changes to the data it collects, holds, or the manner of collecting or managing data.

This only applies if the changes could affect any statistical production or research activity. This change establishes a system leadership responsibility for the Government Statistician; however, it does not go as far as providing a legislative basis for the Government Chief Data Steward.

One area of concern raised during the select committee process was the ability of the Government Statistician to delegate their powers for the production of statistics and establishing data sharing agreements for research.

In a submission by the Privacy Commissioner, it was emphasised that the Government Statistician must take steps to ensure that those receiving the delegation have the appropriate system and controls in place. This is necessary to protect the individual’s privacy.

In their reply, Stats NZ stated: “[the] Statistician is responsible for any actions taken by someone acting under delegation, and any failure by a delegate would rightly be considered a failure of the Statistician.”

The 1975 Act was also silent on the Treaty of Waitangi and the Crown’s obligations. The new Bill rectifies this, and for the first time in New Zealand’s history, the legislation recognises the relationship between Māori and the Crown and the Government’s obligation to work with Māori to ensure that data and statistics meet the needs of Māori, iwi, and hapū.

Through the new Act, NZ Government intends to improve the supply and quality of data to empower Māori, iwi, and hapū. The Bill supports work underway in developing a co-governance framework with Māori data leaders. This co-governance model is being designed to mutually benefit Māori and Government agencies through effective iwi-Māori participation in the data and statistics system.

Data is used extensively to inform the NZ government’s strategic planning and policy decisions. This new Bill now provides a more robust and resilient legislative foundation for the ethical use of data. Ensuring sound data management and privacy practices are being applied.