“Population NZ's population is increasing by one person every 5 minutes and 26 seconds. In the next few months we'll have 5 million people. This five-part series looks ahead to what the nation will be like when that milestone is reached, and recalls what it was like every time it added a million people to its population. In this final part, Lincoln Tan looks at the 5-million mark and beyond.

As the countdown ticks to hitting a population of 5 million, experts are also projecting that New Zealand will be at its most ethnically diverse.

New Zealand faces a future that will be more culturally diverse than ever, with the proportion of Asian, Pacific and Māori forecast to outnumber Europeans in Auckland.

Auckland would be where 60 per cent of the country's growth would happen, and according to projections from Statistics New Zealand, more than a third of the city's population would be Asian by 2038.

One fifth would be Pacific and there would also be more Māori living in the city.

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Auckland would be the only city in New Zealand where the European group would become a "majority-minority", making up less than half of the city's population.

This is sparking calls from experts for new levels of tolerance, especially after the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

Experts say unless concrete steps are taken, the unity and love for diverse communities seen after the mosque shootings would not last.

Dr Wardlaw Friesen, associate professor of geography at the University of Auckland, said good leadership and positive steps were needed to embrace diversity.

"I'm not sure that New Zealand has ever been unified as a people, although we probably have more common purpose than many countries," Friesen said.

"The spontaneous things that happened after March 15 need to be encouraged, developed further and planned in some cases, for example the meeting of different religious and cultural groups, the visits of non-Muslims to mosques, and reciprocal actions."

Racism exists in New Zealand, Friesen said, and that needed to be acknowledged.

"It is quite common for something that an 'other' person does stands out and may irritate us, so we do need to develop more programmes in schools, universities, communities, religious and civil society groups that explicitly address this issue," he said.

Anjum Rahman (left) with members of the Muslim community in Hamilton. Photo / File
Anjum Rahman (left) with members of the Muslim community in Hamilton. Photo / File

Net migration figures were provisionally at 56,100 in the 12 months to March, according to Statistics New Zealand.

"We've seen sustained high levels of net migration over the last five years," said senior population insights manager Brooke Theyers.

Since the year ended December 2014, the annual net migration has ranged between 48,000 and 64,000.

"The only previous time it reached these levels was over a much shorter period over 2002 and 2003," said Theyers.

Islamic Women's Council member Anjum Rahman called for greater tolerance, but said it depended on the resolve of New Zealanders.

"Unless we are willing to invest in diversity and inclusion strategies, nothing significant will change," she said.

"I don't think we need to be unified as a people. Living with differences means accepting different world views, different ways of living and believing."

Although Anjum believed New Zealand had "done well in religious freedoms" - where people were free to practice their faith, she said there had been "denigration and misinformation spread about Muslim communities".

"This has at times made life hostile, particularly for Muslim women," she added.

AUT Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said changes were needed at the "micro, meso and macro levels concurrently".

She also believed there was no certainty that the faith-based violence, such as happened in Christchurch, would not be repeated.

AUT University Director of Diversity Professor Edwina Pio. Photo / Dean Purcell
AUT University Director of Diversity Professor Edwina Pio. Photo / Dean Purcell

"Race and religion have deep woven roots, and for too long, New Zealand has chosen to ignore this reality, in particular for its migrant minorities," Pio said.

"Unless systems, boundaries and structures are in place for long-term changes, the reality of the mundane day-to-day living will replace the priorities of yesterday's grieving. This is the stark nature of us human beings."

Pio said at the micro, or individual level, generosities must replace aggression, and at a meso or organisational level, altruism should form part of performance management systems.

"At the national, international or macro level, this translates as compassion which ensures that dignity and self-worth are built into accountability," she said.

Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University, Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University, Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley said the city that would be faced with the biggest challenges as the nation tracks beyond a population of 5 million would be Auckland.

"We anticipate that 60 per cent of population growth in the next two decades will occur in Auckland, so the next milestone is when Auckland becomes home to 40 per cent of all New Zealanders," Spoonley said.

"The Government have signalled that they are keen to divert some of this growth to the regions, but there has been little done to date that would make a major difference."

THE SERIES:
Monday - A new population milestone: We are getting close to 5 million Kiwis

Tuesday - Million milestones: Great-grandmother recalls New Zealand population hitting 2 million

Wednesday - Million milestones: Auckland businessman remembers the first time watching TV in colour

Spoonley projected that about 36 per cent of Auckland's population would be Asian.

He said research had shown that tolerance and understanding between racial groups came mainly through higher educational qualifications and contact.

"Contact between different groups of people is crucial for increasing tolerance, and this is an area that we need to focus on," Spoonley said.

He also believed there was no other way that Auckland would be able to fit its population into the current land area other than going upwards.

"Housing habits will inevitably have to change when you run out of places to put any more houses in," Spoonley said.

"You will see the number of apartments doubling, or even tripling, and you're already seeing that happen in the CBD and suburbs such as Takapuna."

Hospitals and schools would also face new challenges to cater to the needs of a population that was ageing, growing and more multicultural.

The Statistics NZ population clock continues to tick, and as of yesterday, the New Zealand population estimate stood at 4,964,000.

There's one birth every 8 minutes and 43 seconds, one death every 17 minutes and 19 seconds and a net migration gain of one NZ resident every 7 minutes and 25 seconds.

It took 30 years for the population to move from 3 million in 1973 to 4 million in 2003, but it's looking like we'll be hitting our new milestone of 5 million in record time.