Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Quarter of 'dream' students in Oz

Aroha Ireland, the girl the Prime Minister plucked from obscurity in 2008, has a new life in Melbourne with boyfriend Stuart Splashett. Photo / Supplied, Facebook
Aroha Ireland, the girl the Prime Minister plucked from obscurity in 2008, has a new life in Melbourne with boyfriend Stuart Splashett. Photo / Supplied, Facebook

More than a quarter of school students who started a million-dollar mentoring programme have moved to Australia.

Among those who left was Aroha Ireland, the girl chosen by Prime Minister John Key to attend Waitangi commemorations with him in 2008. She is now in Melbourne and engaged to be married.

Businessman Scott Gilmour set up and financed the I Have a Dream programme in 2003 at Wesley Primary School - which serves a low-income part of Mt Roskill, Auckland - for a group of mainly Pasifika children who were then in Year 4.

The scheme provides academic help and life-skills mentoring and offers a scholarship for tertiary study in New Zealand.

Co-ordinator Ant Backhouse said 14 of the 53 young "Dreamers" had moved to the Lucky Country. One had gone elsewhere overseas.

Most went with their families, but several went alone - one to join the Canberra Raiders rugby league development team, one to a league development high school and one to work in the building industry.

Mr Backhouse said Aroha's move to Australia had been good for her, bringing a lot of stability, following the "chaos" in her life in Auckland.

She moved with her boyfriend Stuart Spashett - they are both 17 - and they plan to marry next year.

Her boyfriend's mother, Lisa Spashett, of Henderson, said Stuart was employed putting up real estate signs and she understood Aroha was studying.

"They are having a ball. I'm so excited for them."

Immigration researcher Professor Paul Spoonley said the programme's 26 per cent migration rate to Australia reflected the nationwide net losses of people lured across the Tasman by better job prospects, higher wages and family and friends who had gone before them.

The net migration loss to Australia hit a record of 39,456 people in the year to March 31.

Yesterday, Mr Backhouse said it was "disappointing to lose so many to Australia", but inevitable given current migration trends.

"Employment and pay are a lot better - that seems to be one of the main motivators."

Mr Gilmour, who worked in the United States for 12 years, said spending time overseas enriched people's lives, but he hoped the departed Dreamers would return to New Zealand to take up the tertiary study scholarship.

"I do want those kids to come home and contribute to New Zealand society and become leaders in their own Pasifika or refugee communities."

Professor Spoonley, a Massey University sociologist, said the emigration of Dream scheme participants showed how New Zealand was exporting its talent pool, including high-performing sportspeople. The departure of people about to begin their working lives was particularly worrying.

"It doesn't matter whether they are graduates or people in this [Dream] programme, if we have made an investment in trying to improve their skills and performance, we are essentially subsidising Australia's investment."

A spokesman for Acting Prime Minister Bill English said some young people would always leave and when they returned, as many did, their opportunities depended on a growing economy and businesses creating opportunities.

He said income and company tax rates were now very competitive with Australia's, and the Government was minimising red tape to help businesses grow and employ more staff and was investing heavily in science and innovation.

- NZ Herald

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