New Zealand's star is on the rise

MARIA SLADE
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013

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OPINION: In my humble opinion, my Sydney-based brother and his family should move to New Zealand.

They won't, of course. His wife is a born-and-bred Sydneysider, and they have two very Australian children (although we could still beat those accents out of them, if we focus).

My brother is an architect, you see, and Canterbury is currently crying out for architects to work on the rebuild.

Being part of the resurrection of a city would be a once-in-a-career opportunity for him, and although Christchurch housing costs aren't cheap, relative to where he lives on Sydney's ruinously expensive North Shore it would be a bargain.

While my brother might not be listening to his big sister, these are calculations that increasing numbers of Kiwis are doing. At a recent business gathering, the owner of an Auckland-based trans-Tasman company remarked that he and his Australian wife regularly did the sums, and they had found it was cheaper for them to live in New Zealand.

Opposition politicians howl about the brain drain across the ditch practically every full moon, but the truth is in recent months permanent migration across the Tasman has plummeted.

In the year to October, a net 23,493 people packed their bags for Australia, down from 39,330 in the previous 12 months.

Extensive news coverage of post-2001 Kiwi emigres forced to live under bridges due to lack of access to supports enjoyed by Australian citizens could have something to do with it. Or perhaps it's finally dawning that New Zealand has water and Australia doesn't.

More likely there is a simple economic explanation. Historically migration tracks the fortunes of both economies, and like the two tectonic plates we sit on they're currently drifting in different directions.

A glance at the Sydney Morning Herald's economics section online this week did not make for cheery reading.

''Business confidence edges lower in November'', read the first headline. ''Job advertisements weaken'' said the second, followed by ''RBA governor Glenn Stevens says downturn inevitable''.

In contrast, indicators on this side of the ditch could hardly be rosier.

Business New Zealand's Economic Conditions Index, which tracks 33 indicators including export volumes, commodity prices and confidence surveys, is currently at 14 points, up nine on the previous quarter and well above its low point of minus 20 following the global financial crisis in 2008.

The ANZ's latest Job Ads survey shows New Zealand employment advertising rose 4.5 per cent in October, and is 9.75 per cent higher than at this time last year. In Australia it is 10.3 per cent lower.

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And while interest rate hikes in themselves aren't a desirable thing, Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Graeme Wheeler's warning yesterday that the OCR is set to rise two percentage points by 2016 is one of the strongest indicators yet the economy is heading north.

Mind you, let's keep this in perspective. Australia's economy is like an ageing supermodel - she might be past her prime, but compared with us mere mortals she still looks pretty good.

The Aussies are bemoaning a 2 per cent annual growth rate but we wouldn't have minded expansion at that level over the past couple of years. Their unemployment rate is still below ours, at 5.8 per cent versus 6.2 per cent.

The difference is that our star is rising. New Zealand's GDP is expected to grow by three per cent in the next year, making us one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Australian joblessness is on the up while ours is picked to steadily fall.

The grass (what little they have) is not necessarily greener on the other side of the Tasman at the moment, and Kiwis who still think otherwise need to read the news. I predict 2014 is going to be New Zealand's year on the catwalk.

* Maria Slade is editor of Fairfax Media's Unlimited magazine. maria.slade@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Fairfax Media

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