• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister


Conference Chair Judge Mick Brown, Minister of Immigration Max Bradford, our United States guest Dr Jim Smith, conference presenters, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

It is very good to see so many attendees from the private and non-governmental sectors, as well as from the various government departments which provide Ministers with policy advice.

I thank you for committing your time and expertise to participate in this important event.

As I said last night, this Population Conference is being held because we agreed in coalition talks last year that it was important to bring together people with knowledge and expertise to discuss population related issues.

To talk about the country we are and the country we can become.

The size and mix of our population has a clear influence on that.

Many people, including the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Winston Peters, Minister of Immigration Max Bradford, government officials, project and conference managers, speakers, commentators, and Te Papa - have worked hard towards making this conference a reality.

To each and everyone of them I say thank you for your efforts.

Winston Peters and Max Bradford will address you later in the conference.

For myself, I am pleased this morning to give the opening address for the first Population Conference in New Zealand, and the first major examination of population related issues since the establishment by Parliament in 1946 of the Dominion Population Committee.

It's hard to believe that it is more than 50 years since we, as a nation, have taken a hard look at population and immigration issues.

The 1946 Committee was absorbed with a wide range of issues that included: the financial implications of New Zealand's thin population base, our population then was only 1.8 million; the burden of the country's internal and external debt; the concentration of industrial development in Auckland; the costs and scarcity of housing associated with such uneven development; and the increasing size of school classes and the shortage of teachers.

Ironically, these are all concerns that carry considerable resonance for many attending this conference today.

There is some truth in the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Nevertheless, the way we see ourselves as New Zealanders has changed considerably since 1946.

Much of what I say this morning will focus on our changing perceptions of ourselves and how that, inevitably, raises questions on how we are going to present New Zealand in the future.

It was in 1947 that New Zealand formally adopted the Statute of Westminster giving the New Zealand Parliament, with a few minor exceptions, plenary legislative powers, thus signifying New Zealand's legal independence from Great Britain.

The following year, 1948, The British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act was assented to.

It effectively made everyone residing in New Zealand prior to 1st January 1949 New Zealand citizens.

Previously, all New Zealanders had been British subjects only.

Those two important legislative steps have been the baseline from which New Zealand's modern identity has grown as we took greater control over our own destiny.

So in the 50 years from the first Population Conference we have been defining and redefining our identity as New Zealanders.

Immigration has, and will, continue to influence how we see ourselves.

A unifying factor among all New Zealanders is a migrant history - from when the first waka beached on these shores to today's new arrivals - there is a common thread of people looking for a better life free of prejudice and hardship.

From time immemorial migration has followed the caravans of trade, and the current decade has proved no exception.

Since 1990 our exports into Asian markets have increased by 60 per cent and, as a result, we now have no less than fourteen embassies and trade offices in the region.

As these markets become increasingly important to us, more New Zealanders are being found in Asia, and more Asians are being found in New Zealand.

Indeed, earlier this year, Parliament welcomed to it's ranks our first Asian-New Zealand MP, Pansy Wong; we are proud to have her.

We also have three MPs with Pacific Island heritage.

They equally confirm the growing diversity of New Zealand's population.

Migration has had a huge influence on who we are, but the much more important question for the conference and for New Zealanders of this generation to decide is who we will become.

I would like to spend a few moments on the founding document of our nation, The Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty of 1840 granted arriving immigrants the right to settle peacefully in New Zealand; and in 1997 it continues to give all who are legally here the right to be here.

The Treaty belongs to Maori and non-Maori alike; both must honour it, for it defines rights we share.

And I am pleased that this generation is addressing issues relating to the Treaty that have for too long been pushed to one side and left in the too-hard basket.

Several events have helped shape the values of modern New Zealand.

The Vietnam War, the '81 Rugby Tour, the debate on being nuclear free, economic reform of the '80s and '90s and the ongoing march of technology.

Each in its own way plus many others have helped to determine the values we draw on as we look out to the future.

The final element of who we are will be found in the manner in which we present ourselves to the world.

Here there are two forces at work - economic integration creating the 'Global Village' for trade and commerce, counter balanced by a strong desire to have a distinct cultural identity so as not to be overpowered and lost in a world of billions of people.

Some may see a contradiction in these trends.

I don't, because as history has shown many times no one can take over the spirit of a nation.

The first trend reflects the reality of modern transport, modern commerce and modern banking - all made possible by giant strides in technology which never stops.

It has created many wonders to marvel at, but I think of the common money machine.

A visitor puts in a plastic card which starts off a chain of events which takes the information from that card and first identifies the country of origin, then the bank, then the city or town, then the bank account, checks whether there is any money in it and reverses the process and on the way determines the current exchange rate and gives you money in the currency of the country you are in.

If all this takes more than about 20 seconds we kick the machine and complain about slowness!

Yes, technology can do wonders in bringing people and places closer together.

Watching the All Blacks live on TV, teaching the Welshmen how to play rugby is good fun but the Welshmen want to remain Welsh and we want to remain New Zealanders.

We want to retain a unique identity.

That is totally understandable and should be encouraged.

It is both a strength and a challenge.

A strength in that we cherish and embrace our family of New Zealanders; a challenge in that we must be willing to embrace others who come to join us.

To achieve that we must avoid stereotyping and prejudice that goes with it.

We must look at people for who they are, not where they come from.

Recent trends have seen an increase in Pacific Island and Asian migration but the future, as we open up more to South America, may see more migrants from the many countries of that region come to join us in New Zealand, as well as continuing migration from more traditional source countries.

I welcome this conference as an opportunity for you to proffer suggestions and policy ideas about how we see our country developing its population and on how we should prepare for a different future with a different population mix.

The figures I gave last evening on Peter Drucker's expectations of significant population declines in many developed countries are worthy of reflection.

Without inward migration our own population would also move into decline.

Fifty years ago, in entirely different circumstances and after the then look at our population trends, we moved to significantly change our constitutional structure to more completely reflect an independent nation.

Fifty years on as we again look at ourselves, at our people, at our region of the world, it is appropriate to ask should we not move to have a New Zealander as Head of State of New Zealand?

As is well known, my answer to that question is yes.

Others are less certain and worry about when is the right time.

This is an important debate because deep down it is about who we are.

It is not about being against the past or present but about what is right for the future.

The same is true regarding population and immigration - what is right for the future.

Today and tomorrow a range of talented and informed presenters will set out trends and projections.

Others will look at the inevitable pressures placed on new migrants and the pressure that new migrants, if not carefully managed, can place on communities.

I know you will have a full review of the implications of population change on Maori development.

The range of issues is large and the topics very important.

Most important of all is that at the end of the conference you feel it has been worthwhile and that collectively you have made a contribution to a more understanding and a more tolerant New Zealand.

As the son of Irish immigrants I know a little of the migrants history of coming to New Zealand for a new life.

I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to your conclusions.

Remember but one thing, we are in Our Place - Te Papa Tongarewa - this great store house of our history, talking about our place, New Zealand, and it's place in the world.

Thank you.