Digital first should be last

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    There was something disturbing about this year’s census night

    The gathering of definitive statistics is normally an august and careful process of distributing forms, tracking down property owners and occupiers and generally shepherding every citizen through the process. 

    It has fallen – in a big and perhaps revealing way – to the mantra of “digital first”.  

    As a method, “digital first” in any context was always going to jab a news journalist in the solar plexis. 

    It’s the last resort of a national (read multinational) media that has destroyed the larger media in New Zealand over decades of chequebook expansion, closures, newsroom austerities, the near-destruction of the then thriving Community Newspaper Association in the 90s and the subsequent brutal demise of the New Zealand Press Association in favour of what has been purported to be a new form of news that is, in reality, mostly formulaic pap.

    Counting us, as citizens, goes back to Biblical times.  In a modern democracy, meaningful participation – in statistics as in daily life – is essential for the primary role of government which is the equitable redistribution of wealth in a time of changing work and societal patterns. 

    Given the climate of the last three decades of instant fortunes for the few and the counterbalancing threat of instant financial crisis to workforces for the many, it needs to be reclaimed. 

    Confronting the new method for gathering statistics, I combed in vain through my copious ‘editor’ emails for any sign of public information about so radical a change – information that would normally have been there. 

    Television – which most of us have given up on anyway, at least as a news source – has had some fatuous clips of happy families gathered round the laptop as if it were Christmas dinner.   

    Presumably, as statisticians, the organisers know how many homes in south Auckland have a family computer.  They defininitely know that it’s one of the biggest areas where the population has historically been inadequately counted and that, as a result, it misses out on its basic share of the country’s tax take.  

    Indeed, (and for all the Jaffa prejudice) Auckland as a whole does apparently receive rather less than its population would indicate.

    Questions remain. Did trained teams go round the streets on Tuesday looking for people in cars or jammed two or three families-deep in houses? Were they issued with numbers like the form sent to property addresses and left to fill them in at the nearest library computer room? Did someone perch on the seat behind the steering wheel and talk them through it?

    It would probably always have taken a good local team to round up the families in depressed and hope-starved valleys in Northland and elsewhere round the country, too.

    The switch to “digital first” was almost certainly mandated before the change of Government late last year, its language reducing ordinary people to a mass to be managed, instead of valuable and contributing individuals who pay most of the country’s taxes.

    It’s the sort of thing that prompted a substantial majority of us to vote in the last election for change that promised a more inclusive and generous model of society. 

    Reversing the embedded culture was always going to be a challenge – in government departments, in received thinking from the likes of the New Zealand Initiative and from a decade of political appointees at every level.  

    Into this comes the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s State of the Gulf report, again with shameful statistics and acknowledging strong public support for more protected marine areas. The final piece of the jigsaw needed to revive the Hauraki Gulf from its current degraded state is strong Government backing, says Forest and Bird’s Hauraki Gulf advocate Alicia Bullock.

    “Everything is in place to bring back the health and abundance of the Gulf – we have the science, the stakeholder consensus, and a ground-breaking plan of action called ‘Sea Change’, but the key piece that’s missing is cohesive political support.”

    “We cannot address the issues facing the Hauraki Gulf in isolation from one another. Central government has previously taken a siloed, single issue approach to the Gulf. Sea Change gives us a new, collective way forward, and must be implemented as an integrated package without delay,” says Ms Bullock.

    Forest and Bird, looking to the Minister of Conservation, Minister for Fisheries, and others for bold, collaborative leadership and kaitiakitanga for Sea Change and the Hauraki Gulf, has launched a campaign to harness community support for implementation of Sea Change as an integrated package. See www.forestandbird.org.nz/seachange and our story page 18. 

    • Liz Waters

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