Flow across Tasman tipped to reverse

01:59, Jun 10 2012
tdn plane stand
Heard the one about the Kiwi boomerang?

More Kiwis than ever are moving to Australia but at a closer look the economy there shows it might not be as buoyant as they thought.

A record 52,000 New Zealanders - or a 1000 a week - relocated to Australia in the year to January, but Luke Malpass, a research fellow with public policy "thinktank" The New Zealand Initiative, said the job market they face on arrival was likely to undercut their expectations, depending on where they went.

On the face of it, Australia's economy looks prosperous, he said.

GDP has been rising across the Tasman, up 2.3 per cent in the year to December compared with New Zealand's 1.4 per cent, unemployment is as low as 5.1 per cent compared with New Zealand's 6.7 per cent, and wages are about a third higher than in New Zealand.

But there are stark regional disparities. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, most of the growth is focused on Western Australia where the strong mining sector helped the state record a 14.5 per cent rise in GDP in the year to March.

But when you look at some of the other states in the last quarter, growth slowed by 0.3 per cent in New South Wales and 0.8 per cent in Queensland while Victoria only rose 1.8 per cent.


Malpass said the positive news about bigger salaries in Australia is bumped up by Western Australia and Northern Queensland, areas with enormous investment in resource development.

"New South Wales has actually been in recession. It's a two-speed economy - although there is this supposedly enormous boom going on, if you're in the southeast all you're seeing is manufacturing depressed because of the high dollar," Malpass said.

The low nationwide unemployment rate also masks growing unemployment numbers on Australia's eastern seaboard, he said.

The perception is that many New Zealanders move to areas such as Perth or Kalgoorlie in Western Australia for high-paid mining jobs, but in fact a lot of Kiwis prefer the bustling cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where living costs are higher and growth slower.

"Australia is a very good place to be if you're an engineer but if you are looking for a job in construction in Brisbane you'll struggle," Malpass said.

Plenty of Kiwis are taking their tool belts across the Tasman to make their fortune, according to recruitment company Hays.

Director Jane McNeill said higher numbers of New Zealanders had been applying for Australian jobs recently and skilled construction workers were in demand, particularly in Western and South Australia.

Hays had also been approached by energy companies in Western Australia to find New Zealand staff specialising in transmission and distribution.

"New Zealanders typically possess highly relevant skills and experience. Our working cultures are closely aligned so they also fit in well with existing teams - despite the sporting rivalry," McNeill said.

Prime Minister John Key said recently that Canterbury residents who moved to Australia to escape earthquake damaged homes may start returning once the rebuild was under way.

Malpass also expected some New Zealanders would soon change their minds about a permanent shift to Australia.

"The unemployment rate there looks suspiciously low. I would say over the next 6-18 months we will see a lot of people start to come back."

Fairfax Media