But why is Auckland growing? Where are the people coming from? There is a surprising amount of confusion about this issue.
Some people seem to think that Auckland is growing mainly due to immigration, and that if we “turn off the tap” growth would slow down to a more sedate pace. This perception has been fed by historically high levels of net migration to NZ over the last year – even though this has mainly been caused by New Zealanders not moving to Australia:
New Zealand has had a record net gain in migrants of 61,200 in the September year, driven by more Kiwis coming home and fewer leaving for Australia.
The annual gain in migrants has been setting new records for the past 14 months, and there were 118,800 arrivals in the September year and 57,600 departures…
There was also a net gain of 100 migrants from Australia, the sixth month in a row to show a net gain, reflecting weaker economic conditions across the Tasman.
The fall in migrant departures was mainly due to fewer New Zealand citizens leaving for Australia. Departures of Kiwis to Australia fell 15 per cent to 21,500 in the September year, which is less than half the peak departures set in the December 2010 year.
However, when we look at the data, it turns out that migration is not the main cause of Auckland’s rapid population growth. In fact, most of the growth over the last three decades – and most of the forecast growth over the next three decades – comes from “natural increase”. Auckland is growing mainly because Aucklanders are having children.
But don’t just take my word for it – let’s take a look at the data.
I’ve gone to Statistics New Zealand’s surprisingly unusable Infoshare tool and downloaded the following data:
- annual permanent and long-term international arrivals and departures to the Auckland region (from the International Travel and Migration – ITM category)
- annual live births for the Auckland region (from the Births – VSB category)
- annual deaths in the Auckland region (from the Deaths – VSD category).
I used these data series to calculate annual net migration (arrivals – departures) and natural increase (births – deaths) from 1992 to 2015. I’ve ignored a third source of growth – migration between regions – as it’s relatively small. John P has previously taken a good look at that issue. Here’s the chart:
This graph shows us several important things:
- First, net migration – those scary red bars – has been really high in some years, but really low (or even negative) in other years. It fluctuates quite a lot.
- Second, natural increase is much more consistent over time, although it looks like there may have been a bit of a baby boom during the prosperous Clark years.
- Third, natural increase is almost always larger than net migration. In 18 of the last 24 years, natural increase accounted for a majority of Auckland’s population growth.
Natural increase accounted for 58% of Auckland’s growth over this period, while net migration accounted for the rest. We’re growing mainly because people are having babies. I have yet to see a proposal to turn off the “baby tap” that does not involve violations of people’s privacy and human rights.
In a similar vein, it’s also worth looking at the composition of net migration. Here’s a chart comparing permanent and long-term international arrivals to Auckland with departures from Auckland:
Notice how the two sets of bars tend to move in tandem. When we get an influx of arrivals, we also get a decrease in departures from Auckland. What this means, in practical terms, is that it capping net migration would force us to cut immigration quite severely in a boom time, to compensate for the fact that fewer New Zealanders leave overseas during these periods. This does not seem like a great policy, as it will hamper businesses’ ability to recruit staff at a time when they are expanding fastest.
So that’s the recent past. What might the future look like? According to Stats NZ’s most recent population projections, Aucklanders having babies will continue to account for the majority of the city’s population growth. 62% of Auckland’s population growth over the next three decades is expected to come from natural increase. Here’s the chart. Net migration is running hot right at the moment – ahead of Stats NZ’s medium projections to 2018 – but it will cool off in the future:
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we did succeed in significantly reducing net migration to Auckland. Setting aside the question of whether this would be a good idea – I don’t personally think it would be – we need to ask how much of a difference it would actually make.
So here’s a quick and dirty simulation. I’ve taken Stats NZ’s population projections and reduced projected net migration by 50% – which I think we can all agree is a significant reduction. The results are shown in the following table:
|Year||Stats NZ medium projection||Population projection with half as much net migration|
|Average annual growth rate 2013-2043||1.34%||1.13%|
As you can see, a major reduction in net migration to Auckland would have very little impact on the city’s population growth. Instead of growing to 2.2 million by 2043, it would only grow to… 2.1 million. Furthermore, the city’s projected annual average growth rate would fall to 1.13%, but that is still much faster growth than Stats NZ is picking for other regions.
It’s tempting to think that we could avoid growth pressures by cutting immigration. However, the historical data and population projections suggest that we’d be dealing with substantial growth due to natural increase. Conclusion: it makes much more sense to focus on improving our ability to supply new dwellings.