Factoid check

In her Budget column today, Janet Albrechtsen makes the following claim:

NSW has about 380,000 state and local public servants servicing a population of 6.7 million people. And that’s not counting more than 40,000 public servants working in government-owned businesses. With a population of about four million, that should mean that New Zealand should have about 225,000 public servants. Right?

Wrong. According to Statistics New Zealand, our cousins across the Tasman have fewer than 69,000 public servants. That’s one public servant for every 58 New Zealanders, compared with one NSW public servant for every 17.5 NSW residents. The comparison only gets worse when you realise the NZ figure includes almost 12,000 defence force personnel and other public servants who, in Australia, would be working for the federal Government.

I’m too busy to check myself, but this seems highly implausible to me. NZ seems to have much the same mix of public and private schools and hospitals as Australia, and presumably local councils perform much the same range of tasks (maybe with a bit more contracting out). Can anyone do a factoid check here?

Update 2:31 pm An amazing team of unpaid factoid checkers has solved the puzzle almost immediately and the answer is “The number you first thought of”. According to the NZ government,

The public service makes up a small proportion of total state sector employment, as measured by Statistics NZ. In 2004 the Public Service made up only 14 per cent of the 275,000 state sector jobs

suggesting that, after netting out people doing federal government jobs, the NZ and NSW public sectors are almost identical in size, relative to the population. Albrechtsen’s entire piece is based on a difference in statistical classifications. Thanks to everyone who helped dig out the facts.

The obvious question is, if readers of this blog can find this kind of thing out for free, and in a matter of minutes, why is Albrechtsen getting paid for not bothering to make such obvious checks?

A couple of commenters have suggested emailing and asking for a retraction, and anyone who wants to do so is welcome to. My past experience with such things is that any correction is so grudging and qualified as to be worthless, but maybe Albrechtsen will surprise us.

59 thoughts on “Factoid check

  1. Terje, great job.

    “So as it turns out Janet was wrong on this occasion.” (Not to mention the error in the spelling of your name.)

  2. From the Australian:


    IN her column on Wednesday (“Big government addicts can’t afford tax cuts”, page 24), Janet Albrechtsen compared the size of the public services in Australia and New Zealand using figures put out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Statistics New Zealand. The comparison was incorrect because the figures from SNZ did not include some public sector areas that were included in the ABS figures. As a result, the size of the public service in New Zealand is much larger than indicated in the column.

  3. Janet Albrechtson retraction is now included at the end of the online version.


    Being wrong in public is always a little painful. Now it would seem that a few people from this discussion here also need to admit they were wrong.

    MORGANZOLA: And John – the phrase “until Hell freezes overâ€? comes to mind in relation to how long Terje might be waiting for a reply from Her Albrechtness.

    JACK STROCCHI: She is playing silly buggers with a misleading definition of NZ’s public sector employment. Not the first time she has been caught out trying to deceive her readers.

  4. “Crocodile, please drop this line of discussion. I’d prefer that we stick to the issue at hand.”

    OK, might of been a bit hasty it seems.

  5. “I had numerous discussions with Statistics NZ to ensure I was comparing like with like.” (Janet Albrechtsen)

    Maybe Statistics New Zealand is so overstocked with non-PS functionaries that each of the “numerous” times JA spoke to them she got a different functionary (and a different answer).

    Here’s a hint Janet. Instead of having “numerous” pointless discussions, how about having one intelligent discussion.

    How can any commentator with a common-sense, seat-of-the-pants understanding of the world accept in good faith, even after “numerous discussions” a figure that is almost an order of magnitude incorrect?

    Does JA also sometimes mistakenly budget more than $1000 for her weekly supermarket shopping?

    Bottom, irony-free, line: JA’s explanation of an “honest mistake” is more than a little disingenuous.

  6. Unfortunately I think that in Janet’s case you would have to say that in fact it was an honest mistake. That she would barely get a passing grade as a first year essay is also true. The most egregious error is including the quote from a half witted fraud known as Milton Friedman( via P.J O’Rourke for some reason). I have checked the correctness of this quote on the “four ways money is spent”. This quote , “four ways money is spent” , contributes absolutely nothing to welfare economics or the study of market failure, and reflects on the superficiality of Albrechtsens study of the subject .

  7. This, again, is absolutely typical of Frau Albrechtsen, sloppily written, superficial, vacuous rubbish based on far-right hysterics, innacurate quoting, or, usually, blatant misrepresentations, underscored by an extraordinarily substantial dose of blatant bigotry, unsupported by any real evidence whatsoever, her bizarre personal opinions masquerading as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and what evidence there is, is usually a blatant misrepresentation and twisting of the actual author’s original piece, all with the unmitigated gall representative of her ideological kin, e.g. Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, et. al., all with a bias blatant enough to petrify Goebbels’ and Rosenberg’s ghosts. Additionally, I am in full agreeance with previous columnists about Mark Latham’s views of Frau Albrechtsen being spot on the money, all his comments about her are absolutely true, albeit somewhat vulgar.

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