The Kiwi exodus to Australia has hit another all-time high of almost 1000 people a week, depopulating the equivalent of Gisborne or Invercargill in the past year.

Just over 1.1 per cent of New Zealanders, or 50,115 people, made the one-way trip on a permanent or long-term basis in the year to last month - breaching the 50,000 barrier for the first time.

Only 14,357, mostly NZ citizens, made the reverse trip, pushing the net outflow up to 35,758 - also a record.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, whose 46,600 constituents are dwarfed by the gross number going to Australia, said wages in the Australian mining industry were five to six times higher than the average wage in Gisborne.


"There are a lot from the East Coast that are going to the mines," he said.

"There is nothing we can do about it. At the end of the day the honest truth is that the wages are much better over there, and if I was younger I'd go over, too."

But Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt, whose city has 53,000 people, believes New Zealand will benefit from "fly in, fly out" or "fifo" workers commuting to the mines from this side of the Tasman.

"I went there recently and in some of the mines they said 90 per cent of the workers are Kiwis," he said.

"I was in two minds about it after talking to them. After the initial reaction of, 'Oh the traitors and deserters,' it turned out that a lot of them are becoming fifo workers, and it's a trend I would like to encourage."

He said an engineer who earned $60,000 at the Invercargill City Council was earning $260,000 in Western Australia, but his family had stayed in Invercargill and the mining company flew him home every three or four weeks.

"The families don't like it," he said. "But if you're coming home after three weeks of earning $3000 in the hand, so you're coming home with $9000 in your back pocket, that helps overcome the emotional suffering."

Researchers say the transtasman exodus is higher among low-skilled and semi-skilled workers, including tradespeople, than among professional people. A sixth of all Maori in the world, 140,000 out of 815,000, now live in Australia.


Ruby Duncan, of South Auckland agency Iosis Family Solutions, said Australia gave "a sense of hope" to young people who despaired of finding jobs here.

"I know of young people who have gone there and not got work, but the story is that there is work over there. That is a pull," she said.

"There is also some feeling that there is less prejudice over there for Maori, in particular. I think they have a really positive profile in Australia which they enjoy."

However, Infometrics economist Matthew Nolan said the job market had weakened in Australia in the last few months and in seasonally-adjusted terms the flow of New Zealanders across the Tasman had dropped back 13 per cent from a peak in July.

The spike in the first half of this year was partly because of people fleeing Christchurch after the February earthquake.

But both the numbers leaving Christchurch for overseas, and the numbers settling in Christchurch from overseas, are back to the same levels as they were a year ago.