City Council Chambers
Thank you for inviting me here today to celebrate the launch of the Wellington City Council's Business Migration Programme.
Both nationally and locally, immigration continues to have the potential to make an immense social and economic contribution to New Zealand. It certainly has made a valuable contribution in the past.
The Wellington City Council has recognised that fact and taken practical steps to maximise those benefits for Wellington.
The objective of the council's programme is to promote the settling and investment in Wellington by business migrants and those with business skills.
Immigrants are valuable people - people with skills, motivation, money and children to invest in this country - and it is important that we make their transition into our country as easy as possible.
At the same time, we need to make sure our processes and policies mean New Zealand is getting the people it needs - people who will contribute to our society and economy.
On a national scale the Government wants to make sure immigration makes the maximum positive contribution to our society and economy. We are working to that end with our policies, with on-going review of our processes and also through the Population Conference to be held in Wellington later this year.
On a local scale, it is truly encouraging to see such a complementary strategy by the Wellington City Council to maximise the benefits of immigration.
Through the Business Migration Programme, the City Council has identified the specific types of potential migrants and investors it wants to attract - the type of people who can contribute most to the city.
The council has gone to the existing business migrant community and researched their needs in order find out how to make Wellington more migrant friendly, and how to help migrants maximise the business skills and investment they bring with them.
Immigration creates diversity of people, talent and culture.
Twenty years ago the choice of restaurants in Wellington or any other main centre was limited. You could just about count them on two hands. The choice of food served was even more limited.
Tonight, if you wanted to go out to dinner, you'd have a vast array of choices - Greek, Chinese, French, Thai, Japanese, Turkish, Spanish, Mexican... at literally hundreds of venues.
And Kiwi cuisine has benefited from culinary knowledge from overseas - the days when meat, mashed spud and three over-cooked veg ruled the New Zealand table are gone - thank goodness. New Zealand is reputed to have some of the most innovative, exciting cuisine in the world.
Immigration has also been immensely positive economically. It brings in motivated people with diverse skills, new money and investment, and links to overseas markets.
In a recent article, a senior Auckland University lecturer in international business pointed to the fact that the 1995 and 1996 property boom coincided with a wave of net immigration - 30,000 in the year ended September 1995 and 27,000 in the year ended September 1996. It has been estimated immigrants poured $2 billion into the housing market between 1994 and 1996.
Between 1992 and 1997 more than 110,000 people from Asian countries gained approval to migrate to New Zealand. With them they've brought more than $1.8 billion dollars.
Wellington's new business migrant strategy is both encouraging and timely.
Timely, because in just under four months time, the Government's Population Conference will take a hard look at who we are as New Zealanders and where we are going as a country.
The Population Conference on November 13 and 14 will be the first conference to be held at the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, on central Wellington's harbour front.
It will also be the first time New Zealanders have set out, armed with the latest research and facts about current and future demographics, to discuss the economic, social and international issues relating to population change and immigration.
New Zealand society has undergone profound changes in the past two decades with decreasing fertility rates, increasing one-parent families, and a growth in settlers from non-European countries.
The cultural and ethnic diversity of our country was put in the spotlight during one of the most memorable and moving early moments of the Coalition Government - Pansy Wong's maiden speech.
She painted a picture of New Zealand as One Nation, Many People - a country rich in people, skills and cultures.
We are a multicultural society with all the richness, benefits and challenges that go with it. There are more than 12 significant-sized ethnic groups within New Zealand. Chinese make up 2.3 per cent of our population - the equivalent of a city the size of Palmerston North. Pacific Islanders make up 5 per cent.
The Population Conference is expected to attract about 300 participants, including representatives from the academic world, central and local government, the business sector, education, health, Maori and ethnic groups, social service and community sectors.
The Conference will take a comprehensive look at demographic aspects influencing economic growth and society.
To plan for our country's future we must know the facts about present and future population dynamics, and understand the relationships between population growth, immigration, economic growth and social needs so we are prepared for issues facing us in years to come.
Through a series of forums and key addresses from experts, the conference will consider:
New Zealand's current and future population dynamics;
an international perspective on demographic and economic impacts of immigration;
population change and:
the role of immigration; education, skills and growth;
economic and social participation;
growth and development;
the labour market;
urban expansion and infrastructure;
national identity, ethnic diversity and cultural development;
conservation, environment and recreation;
the business sector;
The conference should be a significant kick-start to wider awareness and ongoing, informed discussion of the issues.
In the past we have tended to concentrate on the economic problems of coping with more people in the education, health and retirement systems, and on how to provide the transport, energy, and other infrastructures to cope with a disparate population spread unevenly throughout New Zealand.
At the same time, our local communities are changing rapidly, as the diversity of their populations change. Not all communities are changing at the same rate either, which carries its own problems.
There is also the challenge of language.
About 10 percent of the population - or 385,000 people - speak languages other than English and Maori as a first language.
There is huge benefit from these many languages. The access to overseas markets close to us is helped immeasurably by the family and business linkages diverse ethnic communities and their languages provide.
But lack of English language skills can also be a barrier, and it creates challenges that we need to deal with.
Perhaps the most graphic example is the secondary school in Auckland of 1,300 students, where 53 languages are spoken, and English is the second language for most young people at the school.
Education policy is having to reflect the reality of diversity in language as well as the diversity of ethnic and cultural background reflected in the students.
Those are the kind of issues which will be included in the Population Conference.
The Population Conference will also take an extensive look at what contributes to the successful settlement of migrants and factors which may contribute to developing immigration targets.
Immigrants take time to fully settle in New Zealand and the first few months in particular must be daunting, to say the least. Strange customs, laws, systems, climate, people and language must be dealt with and learned, away from the support of family and friends.
As I said earlier, immigrants are valuable people - people with skills, motivation, money and children to invest in this country - and it is important that we make their transition into our country as easy as possible.
I would like to say well done to the Wellington City Council for their forward-looking Business Migration Support Programme.
Locally and nationally, immigration is an integral part of our past and a vital part of our future. It made New Zealand what it is today. It has a huge potential to contribute even more in decades to come.
It gives me great pleasure to launch the Business Migration Programme for the city of Wellington.