Editorial : A question of size

Exporters and farm leaders are among those who welcomed a proposal to substantially increase the country's population.

Environmentalists and the Green Party (the only party with a population policy) denounced it.

The proposal came from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, which observed that our country is struggling to grow its economy partly because of its small size and remote location.

We can't do much to change our location but we can lift the size of our population.

The institute says it is feasible to adopt a population policy aimed at raising the population to 15 million during the next 50 years.

That calls for an annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent, 2 times greater than present projections, to bring the size and density of the population to levels closer to more prosperous European countries.

It would give us several large cities, fostering competition within New Zealand.

The proposals are included in a report prepared for ExportNZ, whose group executive director Catherine Beard said we need to grow the population through immigration and build companies of scale.

The challenge then would be keeping those companies here so the country benefits from them.

The Clark government in 2003 published a report on population changes and how they would affect New Zealand's future economic, social and environmental development.

It hoped to encourage a broad-based discussion of the issues raised, including population size.

But it was somewhat awry with its projections, expecting the population (then about four million) to grow to 4.4 million by 2021 and 4.6 million by 2051. It is already almost 4.5 million.

That report supported the institute's position in saying New Zealand had a small domestic market and limited ability to take advantage of economies of scale domestically.

Professor Ian Pool, a population and demographics specialist at Waikato University, while opposed to setting targets, agreed the Government should have a population policy - a balancing of factors "to produce the society you and I would like to live in and continue to stay among the developed countries".

Almost 10 years later, sadly, little has been done to take that advice and shape such a policy.

The Marlborough Express