Recent changes Australian immigration rules have caused some to predict a massive brain drain from of talent out of New Zealand.
With higher wages and more opportunities, Australia has long been seen as a good alternative to living in New Zealand.
But population expert and Massey University professor Paul Spoonley says the global battle for talent is far bigger than anything happening on either side of the Tasman.
“I’ve been doing some work on healthcare worker shortages all around the high-income world,” Spoonley tells the Front Page podcast.
“In the UK, for example, they’re planning by next year to have added 50,000 to their nursing workforce. And even if they do that, they’ll still be almost 40,000 short.”
Spoonley says he expects to see enormous mobility of healthcare workers across countries as they look for better working conditions and better opportunities.
“All around the world, in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand you’ll see competition for healthcare workers. In the case of nurses, we’ve really got to up our game in this area.”
Given that our nurses, teachers and other middle-class workers could be tempted by opportunities abroad, Spoonley says that immigration will be needed to fill some of those gaps.
“When we talk to migrants, the thing that attracts them most to New Zealand is not pay, but lifestyle and the safety of New Zealand,” says Spoonley.
“When you compare New Zealand to the big cities of Asia or Europe, it’s very attractive [to some migrants].”
The challenge with relying on immigration is that you have to ensure that you get the balance right.
“If you look at our latest statistics, New Zealand’s net migration gain is exactly what it was pre-Covid. So we’re right back that level of a net gain of 52,000 permanent migrants.”
Spoonley says that our latest net gain puts our population growth rate at about 1.5 per cent, which is ahead of most high-income countries.
“The irony here is that many of those migrants are essential to providing infrastructure, whether it’s construction or housing, and yet, by arriving, they contribute to an additional demand. So it’s a fine balance.”
This is to say that Aotearoa faces a tricky challenge in the coming years as it establishes the framework for the country to grow.
While the changes in Australia may pile a little more pressure on the local job market, Spoonley notes that this move is largely about equity for the New Zealanders who have already worked long and hard in Australia.
“In 1973 when we signed the Trans-Tasman agreement, it stated that anybody who travelled in either direction should be treated as a citizen of the other country,” says Spoonley.
“Then, in 2001, John Howard broke that agreement. So, this takes us back to that original agreement. And, in terms of justice, equity and all the other issues that concern citizenship rights, I think it’s about time.”
To hear more from Spoonley on the impact of this agreement, listen to the full episode of The Front Page below.