The Flight of the Kiwis (Q&A special)

The Flight of the Kiwis (Q&A special)

Most people seem to have heard of the wingless (and hence flightless) bird called the Kiwi native to New Zealand. However, we hear of a contradiction to this fact when it comes to the Kiwis flying across ‘the ditch’ into Australia. It is no doubt we have been hearing these flight stories more vigorously in the past couple of years. Is there really a mass exodus of New Zealanders from their home country to Australia? If so, why might this be happening and what are the effects of this exodus on Australia?

Firstly, let’s have a look at the chart below:


Clearly, we see an upward trend in the number of kiwis flying to Australia. Also, note that the NZ population hasn’t been growing as rapidly as the total departures to Australia, suggesting that over time, relatively more New Zealanders have been departing to Australia. However, keep in mind that these numbers show ALL departures, including kiwis visiting temporarily. The figures used to generate the chart above aren’t ideal to argue that increasingly more Kiwis are coming to Australia to start a new life, but it does illustrate the fact that Australia is becoming a more popular destination among Kiwis for whatever purpose.

The ‘permanent additions to the resident population’ provide a better suited figure. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship reports that in 2010, 13,640 Kiwis entered Australia to settle; in 2011 this number has increased to 19,515. This is approximately a 43% increase in the number of long term migrants from across the ditch! (Note that for the year 2010/2011 starting July there was a total of 34,567 permanent Kiwi additions to the resident population and 14,596 permanent departures so there was indeed a net gain in the number of Kiwis for Australia) .

Why is this transition happening? Let’s look at some obvious indicators of the state of an economy. Growth and unemployment figures may help us understand how the two economies are diverging and hence why more and more Kiwis are looking for opportunities in Australia.


Real GDP growth has been more robust and stable in Australia; especially post GFC (2008). I won’t display the unemployment data in this article but it tells a very similar story to that of above. It only makes sense for the Kiwis to exploit their special visa criteria to relocate to Australia for the better pay and job opportunities. Not only are there economic reasons for Kiwis to make this shift, but also note the cultural similarities between New Zealand and Australia, the decision for a person to move from the former to the latter is not the same as, say a person from China making the same relocation. There is a historical mutual familiarity between the two countries.

Although Australia absorbs immigrants from many other countries from over the world, New Zealand is no doubt the biggest contributor of the total additions to the resident population. How is this mass immigration affecting Australia? The main concern is infrastructure. Congestion on roads has worsened at a local and state level, suggesting demand exceeding supply. The same goes for the airports of Australia which are a crucial infrastructure for obvious reasons. Although the airports are generally in good condition and are efficient, concerns must be raised for their ability to match increasing future demand.

However, let’s not forget that immigration is important. Australia is a rapidly growing economy, the mining industry is booming and unemployment is close to nil, this sounds terrific but before we go ahead and celebrate realise that Australia’s fertility rate is only 1.89 babies per woman (as of 2010) and this is generally considered insufficient to maintain a nations population (According to Wikipedia the replacement rate is roughly 2.1 babies per woman). With a booming economy and such low birthrates, it is crucial for Australia to absorb some labour from overseas.

So is the flight of the wingless birds across a ditch a good thing? One could argue both ways, but ultimately we will have to wait and see how they compete against the abundance of natives already here. If the Kiwis fail to break into the workforce in Australia, as easy as it was coming across, it is just as easy, if not easier to fly back.


Hopefully some of the issues I’ve highlighted throughout this article will be run past our panel on the night of Q&A – maybe you can ask some yourself! I hope to see many of you at ESSA’s biggest event of the year. If you would like to ask a question to our panel, please register your attendance here. Also, join our conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #essaqanda!