Maori in Oz: Living the good life

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2013
Johnson and Rahiri

GREEN FIELDS: The Witehira family in Perth – sons Johnson and Rahiri (rear, who still live in New Zealand), middle row, left to right, Beverley, Geoff, daughter Mikaela; front, from left, daughter Renee, grand-daughters Letesha and Shayla, and daughter Jessica.

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Australia is known as the lucky country, and that's how Maori who live there have found it.

Maori are living a "good life" in Australia - one with better pay and a better chance of being highly educated.

The lure of higher wages has led to a rapidly growing Maori population, known as "Mozzies", across the Tasman, and it is likely to continue, says a University of Waikato study.

Already, about 128,430 Maori live across the ditch, according to Australia's 2011 census. A Statistics New Zealand estimate put the number of Maori in New Zealand at 682,200 in 2012.

Not only was migration a driver of the growing Maori population in Australia, but so were births - an indication that conditions were good enough to stay and raise families there, researcher Shefali Pawar said.

One in three Maori in Australia was born there, and the Australian-born contingent has grown more than the population of New Zealand-born Maori living there, more than doubling in number between 2001 and 2011.

Using data from the 2011 Australian census, the researchers found a strong motivator for leaving New Zealand was higher-paid jobs in Australia.

For New Zealand-born Maori men in Australia, income was NZ$54,964 - just shy of the median for the total Australia male population of NZ$57,301.

It was still below the median income for New Zealand-born non-Maori in Australia, which was NZ$63,148, the study found.

In June 2012 the median annual salary for Maori men in New Zealand was NZ$44,876 compared with NZ$52,000 for European men, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Ms Pawar said Maori were choosing to stay in Australia despite the fact many of them worked in vulnerable industries.

"Yes, it is beneficial for Maori to migrate . . . and while they're working there it's all good and fine.

"But they're working in these sectors which are very much vulnerable to change. So if anything happens in the place where they are working, they are out of a job."

That left them in a "very vulnerable position" because they did not qualify for any social security.

However, another drawcard was education - the study found New Zealand-born Maori were significantly less educated than Australian-born Maori.

New Zealand-born Maori had the lowest rate of migrants with qualifications beyond secondary school, at 40 per cent.

This compared to 52 per cent of Australian-born Maori at the same level.

Research published in The Lancet last year found Maori and Pacific people in New Zealand were twice as likely to be treated in hospital as wealthier, non-indigenous people.

Editors said health inequality for Maori and Pacific people had not improved over the past 20 years.

FEILDING FAMILY FINDING PERTH GRASS MUCH GREENER

Beverly Witehira and her family moved from Feilding to Greenfields, about one hour south of Perth.

She moved for one simple reason. "Money," Mrs Witehira said yesterday.

What the 53-year-old remembers from New Zealand is bad weather, high power bills, and a lifestyle which afforded no luxuries like going to the movies or out for dinner.

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She was working in a retail job where she had banking responsibilities and had to look after the shop, at $15 an hour.

In Australia, where she started working in the dairy section of a supermarket with less responsibility, she was paid A$17 an hour and had a pay rise every six months - almost like it was an "automatic thing".

Her husband, Geoff Witehira, 52, who was a freight train driver in New Zealand, took a job in Australia driving trains in the mines in 2007. He doubled his pay in the move.

The lifestyle was unrecognisable, she said. "The whole ballgame has changed really.

"Now Geoff and I can afford to go out for dinner if we like - go away for the weekend and stay in a motel," she said.

The couple had now bought a house, two cars, and had an investment property in the area.

Their three daughters also moved to Australia and promptly found jobs, one of them getting a job interview the day after landing.

One of Mrs Witehira's granddaughters already had a job straight out of school working at a local medical practice in reception, and the other, still in high school, wants to study early childhood teaching.

KIA ORA, COBBER - MORE MAORI IN SOUTH QUEENSLAND THAN HAMILTON

In 2011 there were 128,430 people living in Australia who identified as Maori by ancestry.

One in three Maori in Australia was born in Australia. The Australian-born Maori population has experienced higher growth than the population of New Zealand-born Maori living in Australia, more than doubling in number between 2001 and 2011.

Research from Victoria University shows more Maori now live in southern Queensland than Hamilton.

The number of Maori living in Queensland was about the same as the number estimated to be living in Northland in 2011. It is also more than the estimated Maori population in 10 of New Zealand's 16 regions.

Among New Zealand-born Maori males in Australia, the labour force participation rate was 92.6 per cent, compared with the national figure of 89.8 per cent. For Australian-born Maori males the rates was 87.5 per cent.

- The Dominion Post

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