OPINION: Facts and figures often lag behind anecdote, and the latest immigration statistics back up what we've all known for some time - more Kiwis are coming home.
Not since former deputy prime minister Jim Anderton's famous callback in 2000 to expatriates to return have we come home in such numbers. Then it was the promise of interest-free student loans. Now, it's better work prospects and a crumbling Australian economy.
It's been a remarkable reversal. Last year New Zealand lost 3000 people overseas. This year we've gained 15,200, and the number is heading for 20,000 by the end of the year. That's nearly double the long-term average.
And they're not Chinese, or English, or South Africans. Well, some of them are. But Statistics New Zealand says 90 per cent are returning New Zealanders.
The reasons are, of course, a mix. Unemployment in Australia has hit 6.5 per cent and is forecast to go higher. The mining boom is over. The Christchurch earthquakes have created thousands of new jobs. Auckland is the fastest-growing city in the Pacific rim.
But it's also a generational move. There's a cyclic nature to the comings and goings. Friends of mine of a certain age are returning from Perth and Brisbane to raise families. Yes, New Zealand is still seen as a great place to raise kids.
There's business-world anecdotal evidence too. Ian Fletcher returned to New Zealand as director of the GCSB after working overseas for many years. Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand's new chief executive, Christchurch born and bred, also flew home after working in Sydney, London and Toronto.
Most recently, Fonterra's new group director of communications, Kerry Underhill, was lured home by chief executive Theo Spierings after 30 years in high-flying merchant banking in London and Amsterdam.
In all these cases I doubt they came home for the money. More likely, it was the opportunity to try something different in a newly-dynamic and energised part of the Pacific.
The timing is both good news and bad news for the Government. Prime Minister John Key was largely mocked for making such a turnaround as we're now seeing in migration one of his major policy platforms. If the growth continues - and it's forecast to - then it's a good news story to take into next year's election.
Yet the flip side is that strong positive net migration flows put a lot of pressure on our infrastructure, on inflation, and of course the housing market. The Reserve Bank said last week that net migration gains were a principal reason it was lifting its outlook on the Official Cash Rate. In other words, expect bigger interest rate rises next year.
Expect also that the plateau that appears to have been reached on house prices will be short-lived, whatever the central bank and some pundits have said about the rise in minimum deposit levels. This will particularly be true in Auckland, which alone gets more than half of all new arrivals. It's been estimated that a net inflow of an extra 10,000 equates to 3 percentage points of house price inflation.
When the kerfuffle around Auckland Mayor Len Brown's personal life settles down, the Auckland Council is going to have to pull its finger out, to be blunt. Previous forecasts of peak capacity on roads, trains, buses, and other essential infrastructure like electricity and water may need to be revised.
And while no-one wishes for an earthquake, it has to be said that a shakeup of similar seismic proportions is what our biggest city needs. Auckland councillors, including the mayor, need to get down to Christchurch and see how new housing developments and roading projects are being handled there. It may still not be fast enough for some quake-hit residents, but it's still a darn sight faster than anything happening - or not happening - in Auckland.
A bigger question is what we're going to do with the new arrivals. Besides housing and transport, they need jobs - and good jobs, if we don't want the revival to be short-lived. Tradesmen's jobs in Christchurch will last a few years during the rebuild, but planning should be underway now to make sure these short-term contracts become permanent employment.
We're also going to have to address New Zealand's notoriously poor rates of pay. And not through rises in the minimum wage, or even the so-called "living wage" some unions are campaigning for. However well-meant the intention, New Zealand needs high-skill, high-wage jobs to lure and keep people - not jobs paying $15 to $20 an hour.
That means both employers and the Government are going to have to bite the bullet at some point. The Government is going to have to phase out Working for Families subsidies for middle and upper-income earners, as they are simply perpetuating the low-wage cycle by allowing employers to abscond from their responsibility to pay their employees enough to live on.
And employers are going to have to realise that their human capital is valuable, and not some short-term resource to be used and discarded as necessary according to the vagaries of the market.
The Government will no doubt claim credit for the reversal of the one-way flow across the ditch, and fair enough. Even if it was largely due to factors beyond its control, it is responsible for both good and bad things that happen on its watch.
Key now has to focus on the other pledge he made back in 2008 - to make New Zealand a high-wage, high-skill economy. There are still some one and a half million Kiwis living abroad. We need to offer them more reasons to follow their colleagues home.
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