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Undercount fears as New Zealand conducts census

New Zealand's statistics minister has brushed off fears of another undercount as Kiwis sit down to fill out the census.

Tuesday is census day in New Zealand, the country's first attempt at counting and understanding its five million-strong population in five years.

The last count in 2018 was marred by a response rate of around 83 per cent, with 700,000 failing to complete the questionnaire, a scandal that led to government statistician Liz MacPherson delaying the release results and, ultimately, resigning.

In the shadow of that saga and growing distrust in government, New Zealand is again undertaking the census, hopeful of avoiding a similar debacle.

"We've done a whole lot of stuff differently this time. We've got twice as many boots on the ground. Twice as many collectors out there," Statistics Minister Deborah Russell said.

"We've done a heap of community engagement and getting around a whole lot of communities to make sure that people understand the importance of the census, and go ahead and fill in the form."

A particular problem is engaging Maori and Pacific Island men to be counted.

After accessing internal documents through official information requests, local news outlet Newsroom reports just 51 per cent of those demographics intent to fill out the census, believing it a waste of time, or used to fuel negative stereotypes.

Maori Party president John Tamihere told TVNZ he believed there would be a "significant undercount" of Maori, a fear which Maori Development Minister Willie Jackson also appeared to hold.

"We try every census and every year to motivate our people, to activate them. And that mahi (work) will continue. I'm hopeful we'll have a better response," Mr Jackson said.

In 2018, the collection response rate was around about 68 per cent for Maori and about 65 percent for Pacific people.

As it will this year, Stats NZ filled in the gaps using other data to create a more comprehensive census dataset.

On top of those issues, Cyclone Gabrielle has generated its own headaches for counters, with affected Kiwis offered more time to complete the form.

Still, the 2023 target is a 90 per cent response rate, with 1.4 million surveys returned as of Tuesday morning.

There are also new questions this year on sexual orientation and gender for Kiwis aged 15 and over.

"The rainbow community, which hasn't been well-represented in the data in the past, will now be represented... so their needs can be further met by better allocation of funding through government agencies," deputy government statistician Simon Mason told Radio NZ.

The census also applies to overseas visitors, meaning touring pop star Harry Styles and the Sri Lankan cricket team, among others, will have to fill out forms.

"Mr Styles will have to do it, yes ... we have got papers to whatever hotel he is staying in," Mr Mason said.

Dr Russell warned people in New Zealand could be fined if they do not partake.

"If you're a visitor to this country. Yes. We ask you to do the census," Dr Russell said.

"There are penalties if you don't but that's an operational matter and to be honest, we don't want to penalise people we just want them to do the census."