Editorial: Migration not a migraine for NZ

Last updated 05:00 28/05/2014

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OPINION: There is no cause for particular excitability about the number of migrants showing up from distant lands.

As Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said recently, if we want stable and predictable net migration, the problem is not with the foreign migrants coming in - because that is stable.

The instability, if you want to call it that, has far more to do with our relationship with Australia and represents at long last a stemming of the outflow. Prime Minister John Key is fully entitled to invite us to welcome, rather than lament, the latest figures showing that we aren't haemorrhaging people anymore.

It's hardly a mystery why increasing numbers of us are staying put. The economic fortunes of the two countries have been making a stark contrast. Australia is exerting much less of a gravitational pull, to the extent that last month the number of departures was a record low, leading to a seasonally adjusted net gain to us of 4100 new migrants.

Overall, in the year to April, we gained a net 34,000 migrants.

What has really caught attention, of course, is the prediction - statement of the obvious, really - that net migration increases will add pressure on housing. That's an especially sore point among increasing numbers of New Zealanders finding themselves shut out of the housing market. The answer to that issue is not to beat back more migrants, but to build more houses.

Woodhouse may have surprised many when he recently sought to explain that New Zealand doesn't have a population policy; nor, to his knowledge, have we ever had one. What we do have, he says, is an agenda of business growth that needs to be augmented by the right skills, most of which are going to come from Kiwis, but some from overseas.

Labour's depiction of an unbalanced migration system, while far from as vivid as Winston Peters' longstanding thunderings on the issue, is well short on specifics and substance, particularly when it comes to what actions it proposes to take.

Aside from our companionable agreements with Australia, New Zealand is not a soft touch for migration. Further afield, balancing incoming skills with domestic vacancies is an artful matter requiring the right settings. How, exactly, should we be changing them for the better?.

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- The Southland Times

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