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Kiwi exodus

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 5 January 2012

There's probably a Kiwi in your street. If not, they're on their way.

Every week about 1,000 New Zealanders quit their lush but economically limp homeland, carrying one-way tickets.

Most migrating Kiwis don't fly far. They just cross The Ditch, as the Tasman Sea is known, settling in the country next door, which under a reciprocal arrangement is open to NZ citizens.


The newcomers can start work and stay as long as they want. However they can't access Australian social services for the first two years.

In the past twelvemonth more than 50,000 have fled NZ. That's the equivalent of the population of Mildura – and there's no sign the flood will ebb. In the same period around 14,300 made the reverse trip – mostly Kiwis returning home – leaving a net migration outflow of about 35,000.

The Kiwi diaspora is extraordinary. One in five NZ citizens now live overseas. That includes more than 100,000 Maori who have moved into Australian cities in such numbers that they've built their own marae (traditional meeting house).

The phenomenon isn't new, but the scale is. In the 1980s former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon commented that the exodus was raising the IQ level of both countries, but there are now many more push-pull factors.

At the heart of the problem is the economy. NZ isn't an unlucky country but it doesn't have massive mineral resources so has to rely on fickle tourism and exporting primary produce.

While writing this story in Wellington two major earthquakes struck Christchurch. They hit when the South Island city was just starting to recover from a huge shaking in February that killed 181 and severely damaged the Central Business District.


Many residents say they've had enough and swear they'll leave. This is no instant emotional response; many migrants have been from Christchurch, able-bodied workers with young families, nerves frayed by the non-stop shaking.

Their departures are compounding the difficulty of rebuilding the city, a $NZ 20 to 30 billion job. Before the December rumbles that caused more liquefaction, work was expected to get underway in late 2012 – though only if insurers return.

During the 2009 NZ general election the National Party campaigned on a pledge to reduce the wage gap with its giant neighbour. The Nationals (the NZ equivalent of Australia's Liberals) were successful at the polls – but not with their promise.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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