Minister predicts big drift south

The Christchurch rebuild will make the quake-hit city into another Perth in terms of matching the Australian city's mining influence on creating jobs.

That was the view of Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce at the Steel Innovations 2013 conference in Christchurch yesterday.

Joyce said Christchurch was moving into the rebuild phase and there would be a "very big drift south and a very big drift east from Australia over the next few years".

The $30 billion rebuild would start ramping up considerably from the end of 2013 and early 2014 to have a transformative effect.

"My view is the rebuild is going to be much bigger than most people expect. Whenever you talk to the numbers people around this they are also on the same page, they sit there and say the numbers are mind-boggling," Joyce said.

There was already an impact with the South Island unemployment level of under 5 per cent, about three percentage points below unemployment in the North Island. "This city will have a similar impact on a New Zealand labour market and possibly even the east cost of the Australian labour market as Perth has had in Western Australia with the resources sector . . .

"As I keep saying to other parts of the country . . . sure Christchurch has to work its way through this and attract the people, but actually that's going to bring challenges in your city and your town because you're going to look around and the tradies aren't going to be there."

The issue would be addressed through better education, training, apprenticeships and "definitely" immigration.

However, he did not see a need for a relaxation of existing parameters for migrant entry.

New Zealand's construction sector already employed more than 7.5 per cent of the workforce, or more than 170,000 people.

Beyond the earthquake, there would be "thousands upon thousands" of construction jobs created to deal with the aspirations of the middle- income people throughout Asia. New Zealand had to tap into that work, but would have to compete with Australia, Indonesia and Singapore, Joyce said.

Steel Construction New Zealand manager Alistair Fussell said the choice of Christchurch and the timing of the conference fitted with the second anniversary of the February 22 earthquake.

It has been estimated about 80 per cent of the buildings in the core of the city have or will come down. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told the conference that despite the damage there were many examples showing "a tremendous creative energy has been unleashed in these places".

The Press