22 Nov 2011

National leader defends record on migration to Australia

9:01 pm on 22 November 2011

National leader John Key says his party will be judged on its record, as the number of New Zealanders leaving for Australia reaches a record high.

Statistics New Zealand says 49,000 people left permanently in the year to October. Once arrivals from across the Tasman are accounted for, the net loss to Australia was 35,000 - the second highest loss to date.

The growing exodus means New Zealand has lost more people overseas than it has gained for the first time in a decade.

Christchurch is continuing to lose people, with 6000 leaving since the deadly earthquake in February this year. The quake caused severe damage in the city and other parts of Canterbury.

At the 2008 election, John Key campaigned hard on the number of people moving to Australia and now says global events and the quakes in February and September 2010 have had an impact.

Mr Key believes the best way to stop the flow is to reduce the wage gap with Australia. When asked how long that would take to happen, he says National is still aiming for 2025.

He says the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand reflect a long-term problem.

"I believe we've made some progress insomuch that we have been closing the after tax wage gap. We are building an economy which is now growing at a faster rate than Australia, but it will take us some time to turn that around.

"It hasn't entirely been helped by Christchurch - they've seen quite a number of people leaving because of the earthquakes.

"If we stay committed, if we follow the plan that National has - less debt on the economy, more focus on building jobs, not putting a lot of costs on our businesses - then I think over time, we can start reversing that trend."

Broken promise, says Labour

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the record high number of New Zealanders leaving for Australia is a vote of no-confidence in John Key's government.

Mr Goff says people are leaving because unemployment is higher in New Zealand than Australia and the wage gap is growing. He says Mr Key promised to stop the flow of people across the Tasman and has broken that promise.

"More than 100 Kiwis a day are leaving New Zealand, a very high annual total - more than 44,000. John Key said three years ago that this would stop. He said that level of migration was a vote of no-confidence.

"Well, the shoe's on the other foot now. This is a vote of no-confidence in John Key's government."

Mr Goff says Australia is doing well because it set up a universal superannuation scheme in 1992 that invests in high wage jobs - and New Zealand has to do the same.