Sir Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1975-1984, once famously said that New Zealanders moving to Australia “raised the IQ of both countries”.  If this wisecrack is true, then soon both of the Antipodean countries will be moving up the Mensa league table.  This is because, as Australia continues to have a mining boom and New Zealand continues to have wages about 20% lower on average than the lucky country, Kiwis are flocking across the Tasman Sea. 

Last year, according to Statistics New Zealand, 87,500 New Zealanders moved overseas in the year to July 2012.  Of these, nearly 54,000 moved to Australia.  In return, about 14,000 came from Australia to live in New Zealand (almost all of these were returning New Zealanders).  This means that New Zealand is losing about 30,000 people net to the “West Island”.  Overall, the picture is a bit more balanced, with the net migration loss for all countries overall for the year to July 2012 finishing at just under 4,000 people. 

However, the loss to Australia is ongoing and sustained and doesn’t look like ending sometime soon. As the deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, Grant Robertson, points out, 40% of those heading to Australia are aged 18-30 years old.  Why are so many young people heading across the ditch in such numbers? Money. Better jobs with better pay is to be found in Australia. Oh and the weather is good too. But mainly, the money.  As the secretary of the NZ Council of Trade Unions told the Age newspaper in Australia, these migrants are “economic refugees”.  This choice of words makes good newspaper copy (particularly when Australia is figuring out what to do with proper refugees – you know the ones who are fleeing for their lives?)  but I would be hesitant to say that everyone who moves over is fleeing a dire economy here. Yes, our unemployment rate is higher (5.2% vs 6.8%) but a lot of people are lured by the prospect of better pay rather than a job fullstop. 

I know of many people who are working in the mines out in Western Australia and making great money. (Ironically when the government here tries to encourage mining people don’t like it – and then we are surprised when Australia is doing better than us?) Also, the professional services firms in Melbourne and Sydney have lured many of my friends from their jobs here.  There are better opportunities and better money available.  Finally, I have friends and family who have left Christchurch to Australia as there are fewer earthquakes over there!

There are about half a million New Zealanders in Australia. That number is obviously growing. I think that we can’t expect anything else as a small country at the bottom of the world. With the shrinking of distances, our young and motivated will continue to seek greener pastures, even in the outback of Australia!

PS Maybe we can continue to provide the Aussies with future rugby coaches and players – although that may well be their problem at the moment!

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...