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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

You know I have a distrust of the mass media and little respect for the standards of journalism in New Zealand. The print media here are increasingly tabloid in flavour and excel in negative headlines and stories. Their reporting is shallow with few exceptions.


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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

You know I have a distrust of the mass media and little respect for the standards of journalism in New Zealand. The print media here are increasingly tabloid in flavour and excel in negative headlines and stories. Their reporting is shallow with few exceptions.


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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Posted by Iain on March 22, 2012, 2:25 p.m. in Immigration

You know I have a distrust of the mass media and little respect for the standards of journalism in New Zealand. The print media here are increasingly tabloid in flavour and excel in negative headlines and stories. Their reporting is shallow with few exceptions. I do not subscribe to any local newspapers as a consequence.

Nothing could be better illustrated this point than an article that appeared in this morning’s New Zealand Herald with the by line ‘Jobs-driven migration to Oz at high of 53,000’.  As I read this article online this morning my blood started to boil and I sputtered and choked on my Corn Flakes.

The article bemoans that  ‘New Zealand suffered a net loss of 39,100 people after departure numbers were partially offset by 13,900 arrivals, most of them returning citizens. The overall net loss of 4100 people in the year to February 29 is also the largest since the year ended August 31, 2001, when 4400 people left New Zealand. The highest single month loss to Australia was 5000 people, in February 2001.’

All true. On the money. Right on. So far so good.

On the face of it one might think – Gee more people are leaving, will I be the last one out and will the responsibility be mine to turn off the light?

However like all poorly researched and presented news stories there is far more to it than meets the eye – like putting those raw numbers in context.

It is quite true that there has been 4100 more people leave New Zealand than entered it in the past 12 months. This has everything to with the fact that the Government has, as readers of this blog are only too aware, slashed skilled migrant numbers – so they are not granting as many residence visas in the first place.

All other things being equal, if you grant significantly fewer residence visas and the same number of people leave, you end up with a net migration loss. Had the numbers of residence visas been allowed to reach historical levels then the migration gain would have been positive.

Furthermore and as the Labour and Immigration Research Centre (part of the Department of Labour which runs the Immigration Department) rightly points out in a recent report:

Permanent and long term migration to and from New Zealand has followed a cyclical pattern over the last 60 years and current patterns are consistent with the long term trends. New Zealand’s population growth provides context to the relative size of migration flows to and from New Zealand but is often overlooked’.

I would say ‘is always overlooked’ myself and the impact can be very damaging because of the perception it can create. 

Many New Zealanders have some strange dark energy that manifests itself by constantly putting this country down – I really struggle to understand why except to suggest they get out a little more and see a bit more of the world and they will appreciate just what they have here in terms of lifestyle, social support, education and health care. 

The first and most important point in adding context to these numbers is that New Zealand and Australia have an open border policy and citizens of each country can move and settle freely between the two nations without visas, permission or either state standing in the way. We spend weekends in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane because they are all so close. I spend more time in Melbourne over weekends than I do in Christchurch or Queenstown. 

The second point is we all but share a common economic zone and the two economies are highly integrated.  People are often moved both ways by their employers who are often Australian. Of course some go for reasons of family, lifestyle or a better employment opportunity but do these ’record’ numbers suggest New Zealanders are leaving en masse?

No. Quite the opposite in fact.

When the numbers of those departing and those arriving are viewed as a percentage of the New Zealand population the picture that emerges is very different.

The fact is that the highest net loss from New Zealand occurred during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the country was on a one way trip to third world status – going broke extremely quickly and lead by an almost Soviet style interventionist Government. At the end of the 1980s the numbers leaving picked up again, also for three years 1999-2001 and since 2002 net migration has been positive (until now).

Clearly what the headline writers  and journos never like to report in their ‘turn off the lights’ stories is that the population has grown enormously since these net migration records began. 

When viewed as a percentage of the population more people than ever are staying in New Zealand and getting on with their lives.

In a global labour market coupled with population increases caused by natural growth and migration you might expect the raw numbers of people departing to also increase which is funnily enough exactly what we see.

When the fact there is now 4.5 million people living here is taken into account the percentage of people ‘leaving’ for Australia has decreased steadily since the 1970s!

The headlines then should probably trumpet – ‘Record low levels of migration of New Zealanders to Australia’.

But that doesn’t feed into the seeming genetically inbuilt inferiority complex New Zealanders suffer from and the mass media feeds off.

I have yet to read a headline which says ‘Australians moving to New Zealand in record numbers’ yet that is the reality. Over quarter of a million Australians ‘flee’ that country for a better life, opportunities, pay packets and a myriad of other reasons every year for which New Zealand is the destination for roughly 5000 - 6,000 of them.

In times of economic buoyancy in Australia and economic weakness in New Zealand it is obvious that people will move there to find work given the geographic closeness, the cultural (fit – well, they are like our cousins if not like our brothers….) and general familiarity. And when Australia falls on harder times and our economy is buoyant the flows reverse. This is what an open border was in part designed to achieve.

It isn’t a bad thing. It is a 21st century thing. My generation and that of my children move between countries the way our parents moved between cities. When Australia is a two hour flight away it is the natural choice for New Zealanders. I just hope they find what they are looking for when they go there.

So if the New Zealand Herald and other rags wish to bring ‘news’ to us all they have in my humble opinion a responsibility to report things accurately that they have bothered to research or at least provide a context to. Not to publish the sort of headline grabbing trash that they seem to specialise in. 

Do they really believe the headline ‘Record low percentage of New Zealanders departing for Australia’ not be of any interest to its readership?

I suspect they are wrong.

I think it would be of interest to a great many people and play a positive role in the national debate.

I have often said that I know nothing about a whole lot but when it comes to the subject of immigration I know an awful lot. I seldom if ever read anything related to immigration that rings true in newspapers in this country. And if they can’t get this right what chance is there that anything else I might read on unrelated topics is actually approaching the truth either?

This is why and a great many of my friends cancelled our subscriptions a long long time ago.

Until next week

Southern Man -Iain MacLeod

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6 comments on this post
April 5, 2012, 8:54 p.m. by Angeline Shannan

The Kiwi mainstream media couldn't be worse than a lot of media around the world. Still, what do they intend to achieve by amplifying emigration and keeping silent on immigration? Will this help to reduce the resistance to new migrants in NZ? Recently, I read that Australia's international student in take has fallen drastically over the past few years possibly due to racist attacks on specific groups of foreign students, high living costs and high tuition fees. In contrast NZ is in a better position, in that respect, so whatever, the media says, migration to NZ will always be an option for some. Yet it is by living outside that many of us finally appreciate what we have at home, so emigration is nothing to be alarmed about. Many Malaysians emigrate for better equal opportunities that they can't find at home but many still come back to visit even if they become citizens of other countries. My brother has become an Irish citizen but is still in touch with family and friends here. He still comes home to visit at any opportunity he gets, with members of his family. The same probably happens in New Zealand.

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April 7, 2012, 3:17 p.m. by Ritesh Waghray

Dear Mr MCLeod,

I am based in India and I am an Indian. I work as a support Engineer for a large global organisation. I completely agree your article and appreciate your way of thinking.

I lived in NZ for 5 years as student and worker. I found NZ to be a great country who care about our planet and have urge to dream high. Unbeknown to many, a beautiful landmark.

To my knowledge every country in this world has its own GAP analytics and SWAT analysis. People migrating to a particular country should accept expectations set by the respective immigration departments. We can also says every country has it own USP.

To me, New Zealand is for film makers, advertisement makers, naturalists and more such specialists and not for qualified barbers, retailers and butchers.

The immigration should start a survey as to what else to do to make the right people come and stay rather than finding why the others are leaving.

There is something called GAP analysis, which explains what a nation or a person could have done or could do to make things better. The GAP analyses helps shape the future opportunities and new industry areas. I do GAP analysis in my company and I get new areas of improvement.

I left NZ for a better opportunity but I fairly understand and am justified. I have always been proud of staying in NZ for 5 years.

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