Magazine article New Zealand Management

FACE TO FACE: Geoff Bascand: Telling It like It Is; in today,COs Deepening Financial Gloom you,COd Think the Chief Purveyor of Statistics Might Feel like a Harbinger of Bad News, but Government Statistician Geoff Bascand Is Optimistic about New Zealand,COs Future. and He Has the Figures to Back That View. by Vicki Jayne

Magazine article New Zealand Management

FACE TO FACE: Geoff Bascand: Telling It like It Is; in today,COs Deepening Financial Gloom you,COd Think the Chief Purveyor of Statistics Might Feel like a Harbinger of Bad News, but Government Statistician Geoff Bascand Is Optimistic about New Zealand,COs Future. and He Has the Figures to Back That View. by Vicki Jayne

Article excerpt

Byline: Vicki Jayne

You just have to ask Geoff Bascand what he thinks about that oft-used quote Co originally attributed to Benjamin Disraeli Co that there are C[pounds sterling]lies, damned lies and statisticsC[yen]. As government statistician, he probably gets that a lot. But heCOs polite Co and quietly passionate Co in his response.

C[pounds sterling]We pride ourselves on telling it like it is. That is quite deep inside the organisation Co the desire to put out official statistics that people can trust. If you canCOt do that then you are in a great deal of difficulty.C[yen]

In some countries, doubts have been cast on the objectivity of statistics. He cites problems in the United Kingdom where thereCOs been quite a lot of political controversy around the use of official stats and notes that their neutrality can be compromised by the way theyCOre released.

C[pounds sterling]There was some interference around that Co [government] ministers getting them before their official release, for example. We donCOt do that. We measure, tell it like it is so itCOs out there, and then people can debate what it means.

C[pounds sterling]So you can have a discussion around the interpretation [of statistics] but we stand by the quality and rigour of the processes we use to collect and present them. I think itCOs hard to get them perfect and itCOs hard to say that things are purely objective Co but we go as close as you possibly can to try to do that.C[yen]

The result, he says, is that his organisation does have a good reputation.

C[pounds sterling]We are highly trusted. ItCOs very rare for people to come out and doubt the stats we put out. ItCOs more likely theyCOll tell us thatCOs old news Co that weCOre telling them whatCOs already happened. But having a good record of what has happened over time becomes very important to understanding the progress and changes happening in the country.C[yen]

Far from being a dry recitation of facts, he sees statistics as telling New ZealandCOs story in a way thatCOs both historical and holistic Co covering the slow-breaking wave of demographic change as well as shorter-term changes in economic output, household wealth or labour market buoyancy. And while the 2009 statistical snapshot is gloomier than in other years, Bascand sees positivity in the longer-term trends.

C[pounds sterling]ICOm very optimistic about our place in the future Co seriously. I think weCOve got a lot going for us. WeCOre an entrepreneurial people Co our data shows we innovate at one of the highest levels in the world. We have a good education system Co sure there are some tail issues but the overall average is good and at our best, we are very good. WeCOre well connected in Asia Pacific and, notwithstanding current economic cycles, that is the growth engine of the world.

C[pounds sterling]While we have those big trends of an ageing population, weCOre also a very diverse, cosmopolitan population and that in itself gives us links, networks Co the ability to work with other races and countries. Also weCOre well regarded environmentally and itCOs deep in the New Zealand psyche to be green Co we just need to put our smarts together over how to do it. But culturally there are some deep streaks there which put us in a good place to prosper.

C[pounds sterling]Sure there are some challenges, but thereCOs a lot to be optimistic about.C[yen]

BascandCOs take on the economy is far from uninformed. Most of his career has been spent in areas of economic analysis and policy advice Co starting in 1981 when, following graduation from Otago University, he was offered a job in the Treasury. Back then, it was C[pounds sterling]treasuryC[yen] with a small C[pounds sterling]TC[yen] rather than the high-profile organisation it was to become and Bascand admits he knew little about it. Nor, at that time, did he have a particular commitment to public service. …

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