In seven of the last 10 years more than 20,000 people have left New Zealand permanently.
That’s around the population of the whole Waitaki District.
The concerning thing is not just the numbers but the reasons people are going with family ties now adding to the pull of higher wages.
Council of Trade Unions economist Peter Conway said that while money was an important factor for workers, migration to Australia was becoming generational and ingrained behaviour for New Zealanders.
“The really concerning thing about the numbers we have now is that it’s starting to look like a long-run trend,” he said.
“It’s not the fact we’ve lost over 30,000 in any one year, because that’s happened before. There is a gravity effect around this.
“If you go to Sydney and you need a bed for the first couple of weeks, chances are you are going to know someone; you’ll have a cousin there or something.
“It’s just become so much easier to go back and forth. Fifty-two per cent of our long-term immigrants go to Australia … and it’s not really overseas to people any more.”
Conway has studied wages on both sides of the Tasman for several years.
Taking into account annual exchange rates and purchasing power disparities, there was a 36.4% gap between Australian and New Zealand wages.
“People say it’s all about mining, but if you take mining out of their productivity figures and take agriculture, forestry and fishing out of ours, you have still got a huge gap with Australia,” he said.
“They are a bigger economy so they get a bit of an agglomeration effect, but also they have kept investing in capital and kept investing in skills, and they have had a better way of investing the rewards.”
Those all make significant impacts on the differences between here and there. Another is that year after year the Australian government has given tax cuts, allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned money.
But there are other factors taking people across the Tasman:
New Zealand Institute of Management chief executive David Chapman said retention of executive-level staff had been a long-term problem.
“There would be a lot of New Zealand families and mine would be no exception where the bright young people head off to Sydney and so forth because that’s where the bank wants to take them because that’s where the big jobs are,” he said.
“That’s been a worry for a while now. It’s a bit like the drift from Wellington to Auckland, but now it’s the New Zealand-Australia drift.”
Chapman said the Kiwi lifestyle was no longer enough of an incentive for managers to stay in New Zealand compared with their career ambitions.
“What drives managers is the companies that they work for, and the problem in recent times is that the ownership of a lot of those companies has moved to Australia and that has tended to relegate New Zealand to branch office operations,” he said.
“That means a lot of our good management talent gets taken to Australia to the headquarters of these companies. That has been going on for a few years now.”
And Australian companies are moving to Asia …