Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

One town's export line: Kiwis to Oz

Long term net New Zealand migration to Australia
Big pay packets for mining jobs across the ditch are attracting the low paid and unemployed. Photo / Thinkstock
Big pay packets for mining jobs across the ditch are attracting the low paid and unemployed. Photo / Thinkstock

In Kaikohe, population 4100, more than a sixth of the population want to chase big pay packets in the mines of Western Australia.

Six hundred people have signed to go on a database to work in the iron ore and gas industries.

They are attracted by the money across the Tasman, the limited prospects in the north, and the timely presence of a recruiting firm trying to set up a register of workers keen to commute to Australia.

Official figures show that 2499 people in and around Kaikohe are getting an unemployment benefit.

So it was little surprise the town was the perfect venue for the company Reciprocus to sound out interest in its database.

Director Douglas Foster wants to sign up skilled people but those without the right background will get training.

Workers in the Australian mining industry earn between $70,000 and $150,000 - a huge jump for the many struggling on the dole or low wages.

Mr Foster said: "We're trying to set up a network now where we can get all the CVs from people throughout New Zealand and go to these big mining companies and say 'look, I've set up a network where we can fly these people backwards and forwards'."

New Zealand workers would spend five weeks in Australia then be flown home for a fortnight. They would be paid in New Zealand dollars, into New Zealand bank accounts.

The strong interest shown threatens to accelerate the flow of New Zealanders to the lucky country which began in 1973. In that year the Transtasman Travel agreement allowed free movement of citizens of the two countries to live and work in either place. Numbers have hit new records in recent months. In the year to April, 53,237 went to Australia with just 13,781 coming here - a record net loss of 39,456.

The previous record - a net loss of 33,590 - was in 2009, and a Weekend Herald investigation has found that only twice in 33 years were there more New Zealanders coming home than leaving.

Immigration researcher Paul Spoonley said the two occasions occurred during the early days of new governments: after the significant political changes of Robert Muldoon in 1984 and following a new National government that followed Labour reforms in 1991.

A Department of Labour study "Permanent and Long Term Migration: The Big Picture" found the highest net losses occurred over the period 1976 to 1982 and again at the end of the 1980s.

"Since the late 1960s, there has been a strong, but cyclical increase in the number of New Zealanders living in Australia, not matched by equal growth in the number of Australians living in New Zealand."

Professor Paul Spoonley, a Massey University sociologist, said trans-tasman migration followed a cyclical pattern but this one was lasting longer than previous cycles and New Zealand could not afford a sustained population loss of such magnitude.

"There will always be an outflow to Australia, but it is the numbers which make the current period unsustainable," he said.

"Over the past five years, 143,159 people left, so the magnitude is now greater than it has been in the past."

Professor Spoonley said Kiwis would continue to leave unless New Zealand could create better jobs, pay higher wages and offer opportunities for new graduates.

"Australia offers a depth and level of opportunity that New Zealand cannot. The push factors are job opportunities and wage levels, while the pull factors include family and friends already in Australia," he said. "One of the most concerning aspects is the departure of new graduates. That definitely is not sustainable."

National campaigned on reducing the outflow, but the numbers leaving for Australia had increased under Prime Minister John Key.

Record numbers continue to leave amid the fallout of what Labour called National's "departure lounge Budget" saying Thursday's Budget announcement would drive even more Kiwisoverseas.

Mr Key remains optimistic, and despite an average of 146 Kiwis leaving for Australia every day, he says the numbers will improve.

"Losing New Zealanders to Australia is a long-term problem that has built up over the past 40 years, and it will take time to turn it around," Mr Key said.

Labour leader David Shearer, however, said the sense of optimism in New Zealand "has disappeared" and Australia was giving Kiwis hope of a better life.

- NZ Herald

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