Expert says cross-Tasman migration "out of control" of either government

Monday 12 September 2011, 1:07PM
By University of Waikato

A leading Australian population expert says population size is determined by economic, social and environmental factors rather than government policy.

Professor Peter McDonald, Director of the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute at the Australian National University, says the flow of Kiwis to Australia is a great example of this.

“It is determined very largely by relative economic conditions --including wages -- in the two countries and is out of the control of either government,” he says.

“Yet its impact on the New Zealand labour force is so large that the government must then compensate through one of the world’s largest immigration programmes (per capita).

“The directions of the immigration programmes in the two countries are similar, but New Zealand is more advanced in what might be called the new flexible approach to migration -- an initial temporary movement, involvement of employers, application for permanent residence on-shore.”

A frequent adviser on population futures to governments in Australia, Europe and East Asia, Professor McDonald is in New Zealand this week as guest speaker at a University of Waikato seminar hosted by NIDEA, the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis.

In his talk, Professor McDonald will discuss the recent debate over ‘big’ and ‘small’ Australia, with reference to the Australian government’s recent policy report on population.

The report concluded that it is more useful for governments, businesses and communities to focus on ways of improving wellbeing, protecting the environment and making better use of existing resources, rather than trying to determine an absolute limit to Australia’s population and focusing efforts on restricting growth in order to not exceed this ‘limit’.

“After 12 months of debate characterised by a great deal of demographic nonsense, the Government’s statement is a welcome relief,” says Professor McDonald. “It recognises that the long-term, future population cannot be exogenously determined by policy makers but will be an endogenous outcome of social, economic and environmental determinants. “

He says much greater attention should be focused on more accurate estimates of population over the next 10 to 20 years, and his talk will discuss likely trends in this timeframe and ways that estimates can be improved.

The lunchtime seminar will be held on Thursday September 15 at the University of Waikato campus in Hamilton.