Population Association of New Zealand

  • Lianne Dalziel

Thank you for the opportunity to open your conference this morning. I bring apologies on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, who was unable to be here today. However, given that I opened last year's conference, it does represent an opportunity to briefly expand on matters I raised then, and hopefully provide a government perspective to the work of the conference.

In saying that, can I assure you of the high value that this government places on the work of the Population Association, as evidenced by the range of government agencies who are sponsoring and contributing to the Conference.

May I especially welcome those of you who have travelled from overseas. Given the theme of the Conference, Population Change: the Challenges for Policy & Planning in the 21st Century, the opportunity to share international experience and knowledge is extremely important.

I have had a chance to look at your programme for this conference and I am impressed at the many issues you will be looking at today and tomorrow. As Minister of Immigration and Minister for Senior Citizens, I have an interest in many of the topics you will be considering.

For instance, I note speakers will be addressing issues relating to the social and economic impacts of ageing populations, the changing world of work and the Labour Market for older workers, mortality, and migration trends, including the return migration of New Zealanders.

To put some of what I cover today in context, I need to go over some of the points I made when I spoke to this conference last year.

I have often made the point that we have a clear need to develop a population policy outside the context of immigration and migration. This is to ensure that the frequent mistake of equating population policy with population targets or numbers is not reinforced. The purpose of population policy is to develop a tool to inform a whole range of policies.

It is still the intention of the Minister for Economic Development to lead the work in this area, however, the initial focus of his work has been on the establishment of the Ministry of Economic Development and Industry New Zealand. In addition he has developed relationships with industries and regions, in order to foster the environment for economic development. I am aware that the Ministry of Economic Development has been working on sustainable economic development issues, and I believe it would be appropriate for the population policy issues to flow from such a framework.

This does not mean that time has stood still. Steve Maharey, Margaret Wilson & I have combined our portfolio interests in Labour, Employment and Immigration, to release a discussion document prepared by the Labour Market Policy Group. It is called Workforce 2010, and covers a range of issues including population trends, education, skills development, training and immigration.

In addition, there is considerable work being undertaken within the Ministry of Social Policy, the Population Ministries – Te Puni Kokiri, Women’s Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs & Youth Affairs – about the impacts of population trends across a range of populations.

I believe it is time to draw together an overarching policy framework, which would assist the development of a ‘whole of government’ approach.

It is very easy to get caught up in statistics, something I am acutely aware of each time the Migration Statistics come out. As Minister of Immigration I am apparently responsible for emigration. However, bald statistics are easy to report, even when they are accompanied by warnings about the reliability of interpreting the data in a particular way.

I have welcomed the research that has identified the so-called ‘brain drain’ as the ‘brain exchange’. Measuring permanent long-term departures as ‘where do you plan to spend the next 12 months?’ does not produce an entirely accurate picture of permanency.

The other thing that has amused me in terms of the New Zealand reporting on the ‘brain drain’ is that I can find exactly the same articles in Australian and Canadian newspapers. It is a feature of a highly mobile population, coupled with the reality that the average age for starting a family has increased, particularly among those that make up that international labour market. There’s a lot more time between finishing formal education and starting a family.

The cost of that formal education has made a difference as well. Where salaries and favourable exchange rates mean student loans can be repaid more quickly, then this must have an influence on choices young people make, and how long they remain away.

Not that all will return either. The fact that most New Zealanders have a connection with another country, does increase mobility, and we will see more of that as our migrant population’s children have children. There is always the desire to connect with family roots, and the opportunities and costs of so doing are more favourable today than they have been in the past.

This is why I am reluctant to continue the approach of the previous government to link immigration policy to a net population gain target. In part this is what has motivated me to establish a separate target for skilled and business migration, and why I have placed so much emphasis on settlement policy. I know that if we don’t act to encourage successful settlement, we will not hold people here. We know that migrants have already made that initial wrench, so it is one-step easier to make that decision to move again. In terms of what I can influence as Immigration Minister, establishing an environment that actively supports successful settlement, is the only direct influence I can have on permanent departures.

As Minister for Senior Citizens I am particularly interested in the issues relating to the social and economic impacts of ageing populations. New Zealand is, of course, not alone in its concern to establish a planned approach to the challenges which lie ahead. And I use the word ‘challenges’ deliberately. I am not one who sees this as a ‘burgeoning burden’ as some describe it. As has been pointed out, older people will be healthier and better educated than the generation before. Their capacity for active participation must be seen as a resource. My motive in developing a Positive Ageing Strategy was to highlight the need to think ahead, across the ages.

It requires the whole of government to think about the implications for

* the workforce – paid and unpaid, full-time and part-time - and retraining requirements as the nature of work changes

* Income needs - the Ministry of Social Policy and Statistics New Zealand are currently researching the living standards of older people. It is estimated that around a quarter of current retirees have no income other than NZ superannuation. And that a further 46% receive no more than $5,000 a year in addition to their superannuation.

* Access to services – where people live makes a difference in this regard

* the health system – there are issues around the cost of health-care, and planning for a continuum of care approach should enable timely interventions, that assist in the maintenance of health and well-being. Should we make financial provision in advance or look at a dedicated tax?

* housing – again this is an important issue that needs to be planned for. New Zealand is a relatively high home-owning country. What implications does this have as housing needs change over time or varying degrees of support are needed?

* family changes – what impact is there on families that are geographically separated? What about the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren? What about reconstituted families, or second time round fatherhood as retirement looms?

* Life expectancies – will we see an improvement in life expectancies for Maori and Pacific people? What implications would that have for policy?

* Migrant populations – have we studied the needs of older non-English speaking parents of migrants who have followed their children to New Zealand?

I guess what I am saying is that the work you are discussing at this conference is extremely relevant to the development of policy across the board, and I am looking forward to seeing the full papers, having been hooked by the abstracts I have seen. I wish I could stay myself.

On that note, can I wish you all the best for a stimulating couple of days, and officially declare the Conference open