More than 28,000 Kiwis have moved to Australia in a year – a net migration loss of 10,200 and the biggest exodus since 2014. The lure of higher wages, better job incentives and a generous
superannuation scheme are major attractions. Combine these with a new direct pathway to citizenship, and wine corks are popping over the Tasman. Carmen Hall talks to New Zealanders who made the move across the ditch over the years about how their lives changed.
Johnelle Parkinson has found her perfect work-life balance in Brisbane.
“Gone are the days of living to work.”
The Tauranga-born single mother-of-two moved to Alexandra Hills in Queensland in 2012 and works as a city parking operations supervisor for the Brisbane City Council.
She earns $90,000, not including overtime, working a nine-day fortnight with 7.25-hour days. Perks include paid meal breaks, an employer superannuation contribution equivalent to 14 per cent of her weekly wage, a free health and wellness gym package, generous leave provisions, flexible working arrangements and a parking spot worth $560 a month.
She is also eligible for family tax benefits, so before and after-school care for a week only costs her $46.22.
The 44-year-old said her biggest expenses were her mortgage and private health and sports insurance, but they paled in comparison to the cost of living in New Zealand.
“Food and rent alone are phenomenal – it’s mind-blowing how a basic human need is so expensive. I’d move home if I could secure employment that pays above the living wage.
“But I don’t want to live with the stress of living pay cheque to pay cheque. It’s no way to live life.”
She planned to become an Australian citizen to vote in elections and for her children’s benefit with regard to accessing university and student loan assistance.
Former Rotorua resident Kim Hudson has more than doubled her salary in Australia and also planned to become a citizen.
“I love the lifestyle here. There is so much to do, especially for families. The weather is also beautiful and warm for the majority of the year.”
She arrived in Brisbane in 2012 and worked in management for a national non-profit organisation.
“I have been fortunate enough to have had opportunities to progress within the company. I’m making more than double the salary I was making in New Zealand and I had a good job.”
Benefits included superannuation, a work cellphone and the use of a vehicle.
Through her work, Hudson had seen the impact on Kiwi families who did not have Australian citizenship in terms of social housing, subsidised health and financial support.
She was looking forward to being able to vote and said moving home was not an option.
“Our children have settled here and we have built their lives here.”
Alysa Milner grew up in Mount Maunganui and now considers Darwin home.
She moved in 2009 and worked for the Northern Territory government championing small businesses.
Milner was earning just over $100,000 and incentives included six weeks of annual leave, three weeks of sick leave, 9.5 per cent of her salary in superannuation, 20 weeks of paid maternity leave and funded study days.
“I like the lifestyle in Australia and the freedom to earn good money, and there is the ability to grow and develop your career. I miss the beaches and the beautiful landscapes back home.”
The cost of living in Darwin was higher than other states because “we are deemed remote”.
It costs at least $500,000 to buy a house and fuel was about $1.85 per litre.
“The biggest expense I experience is food, as I have a young family who likes to eat. We definitely don’t go without, as my husband and I both have good incomes.”
In her view, New Zealand’s economy was “grim”.
“House prices are crazy, petrol is unaffordable and food prices are a disgrace. I wouldn’t move home as there are great opportunities over here.”
Milner was glad she waited for the new pathway to citizenship as “it’s going to save me thousands and a lot of time”.
Lucy Brewerton moved to Sydney in July last year and was making about $50,000 a year for 25-hour weeks, or $30 an hour and $60 an hour at the weekend.
“I know it’s insane, it’s so crazy how different the pay is here. It’s pretty great because the tax system is different.”
The 26-year-old was finishing off her Master’s in Public Policy, specialising in social policy at Sydney University while working part-time as a disability support worker.
“I love my job, it is really rewarding and amazing. They have the resources and the support … that makes you feel like you’re helping people.
“But I miss Tauranga for sure and the lifestyle. I miss the quiet, and everything is so busy here because it’s Sydney, and the beaches are overcrowded.”
Brewerton and her partner James, who earned $37 an hour for an entry-level customer service job, paid $460 a week for a room in a house at Bondi Beach.
In the future, the couple planned to travel to the United Kingdom.
Sharlene Taiti owns her own home in Australia and was on a good income – something she doesn’t believe was possible in New Zealand or in her hometown, Tauranga.
“I can honestly say, in New Zealand, I would not have everything I have achieved or acquired.”
She was a manager for a freight forwarder company and followed her husband to Brisbane in 2002 with her children.
“All our kids have completed schooling up to Year 12, with our youngest now in Year 9 – something I am also adamant would not have happened in New Zealand. They were shocked when they found out I did not complete my school years.”
Citizenship had always been on the cards and she was excited her whānau of six and 10 mokopuna would be able to afford it.
Riki Ohia, from Welcome Bay, has lived in Australia for 23 years and now calls Hobart home, as “the place reminds me of a little New Zealand”.
“When you see a Kiwi, we always talk about home. Money is good here and there is plenty of work.”
He owns his own home and was a prison officer earning more than $100,000 before going to university to study to be a social worker, which cost him $28,000 upfront as he was not entitled to any study assistance loans.
Now, Ohia was earning $87,000 and just interviewed for a new job with a $97,000 pay packet.
The father-of-four was applying for citizenship to get better access to government services.
“I’ve paid tax [in Australia] for 23 years so far, so why would I expect a pension from New Zealand?”
Shelleigh Lole moved from Tauranga to Brisbane in 2008 after losing everything in the recession. That prompted a move to Australia with her husband and kids, her parents and her sister’s family.
”Our family owned Miden Homes on Waihī Rd and we were forced into voluntary liquidation. It was scary, but we all are motivated individuals wanting to succeed. Australia openly gave us the perfect platform of opportunities to be able to create a life that now provides endless opportunities for our kids.”
She owns two barbershops, a home and commercial property.
”Australia has been very good to us and has opened up many opportunities that have allowed us to persue so many dreams. I recently got my citizenship through the RRV [Resident Return visa] pathway, and am now so excited to be able to get this for my husband and three kids.
”While NZ will always hold a special place in our hearts, Australia has given us the life we have dreamed of. My sister will also get this done for her family, and we are thrilled at the new pathway that has opened up.”
Lauren, who only wanted her first name published, was from Tauranga and did an internal Auckland-to-Brisbane job transfer.
She works in recruitment and said her salary increased with the move.
“New Zealand has been pretty claustrophobic for the last few years because the borders were shut for so long. I’ve always wanted to live overseas. I was planning on moving to the UK, but given the state of everything happening on that side of the world, it wasn’t really something I wanted to do, so Australia was a good option.”
She was planning to buy a house and, for $500,000, could get a smaller property or townhouse close to the city.
Elizabeth Silby was a barista in Melbourne, but before that, she lived in London for two years. She said when her visa expired, “I couldn’t face going back to small-city living in NZ.”
The 28-year-old was earning at least $5 more an hour and loved the opportunities in Australia.
“I don’t think I will move back home. Wages are too low and the cost of living is too high.”
To stay, go – or come home
Stats NZ migration data shows in the year to September, 10,200 more people left New Zealand for Australia than the number who made the reverse journey – the largest net outflow since early 2014.
This was made up of 17,900 arrivals to New Zealand, and 28,100 to Australia.
Greg Simmonds, workforce and policy general manager for economic development agency Priority One, said the recent citizenship policy change may have more impact on decisions to stay rather than go.
“We’d expect that rather than … increasing the number of people leaving NZ for Australia, that it will encourage those already in Australia to stay, rather than come home to NZ at a later stage.”
So far this year, there had been a significant net rise in people moving to NZ, which he said was good news for employers.
Tight labour markets were here to stay, given the impacts of ageing demographics and global movement of talent, he said.
“New Zealand needs to focus on improving living standards to remain an attractive choice for those already living and working here, as well as a place ex-pat Kiwis want to return to and migrants choose to move to. Similarly, from a city perspective, it’s important Tauranga invests in the infrastructure and amenities needed to retain and attract the talent local employers need, including affordable housing.
“As a city, we’re at a unique point in time, with some significant city developments, particularly in the CBD, that will help lift the attractiveness of Tauranga as a destination for skilled talent – something we’ll need if we want to raise living standards within our community.”
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the skill shortages were a top concern for local employers and the “cost of living crisis has made younger workers review their life goals”.
“The Western Bay’s economy has a relatively high proportion of blue-collar and public service workers (healthcare, teachers etc), who I imagine are most at risk of moving to Australia. If our construction sector continues to cool, we risk dropping into yet another boom-bust cycle.”
However, the area’s population was still growing.
“There is strong demand for more housing, but home ownership is currently inaccessible for many. If local construction companies are forced to right-size their workforce until mortgage rates make homeownership more accessible, then we risk losing skilled workers to Australia, resulting in a shortage of construction workers when demand inevitably picks up again.”
More housing was needed, and while supply was not the only issue, it was a big step towards making the region a more affordable and attractive place to live.
RotoruaNZ chief executive Andrew Wilson said Australia was New Zealand’s largest trading partner, and as a result of our close economic ties, Kiwis have crossed the ditch for decades.
“It should come as no surprise that this will continue. What we also see is a fair share of people moving to Rotorua after spending time offshore. Our goal is to make sure that everyone who has travelled away to anywhere in the world has a place they can come home to here.”
Attracting and retaining skilled staff was one of the key challenges employers faced.
“Increasingly, employers are competing globally for talent as individuals have more options available to them. Locally, we have been fortunate that a range of Kiwis, after time offshore, have decided to return to Rotorua to live, work, do business, invest and be closer to whānau.”
“Where our workforce in Rotorua and New Zealand will need to sharpen up is at the highly specialised level. However, the competitive advantage of Rotorua is that we offer a second-to-none lifestyle and community.
“If we can lean into our strengths, we have a really appealing offering to domestic and international workers looking for somewhere they can be welcomed to and call home in the long term.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the average wage across the ditch was A$94,000 – equivalent to $102,500 – last November. Statistics New Zealand said the average weekly earnings equates to an annual wage of $77,844 in NZ in the year to December.
New Zealand had an overall net migration gain of 11,700 in February this year – the second-highest for any month ever, according to the latest Stats NZ data.