The Changing Face Of NZ

May 8, 2014
Iain MacLeod

When we are overseas and consulting on what life might be like for those looking to join us here in New Zealand we have three sources to drawn upon in trying to predict what new arrivals might experience – our own lives as New Zealand ‘natives’, the insights and observations our clients share with us of their experiences when they got here and official statistics. It can be very hard to explain to people what they might reasonably expect because two people can go through the same process and have a very different take on the same thing.

One of the pieces of advice I offer at seminars is that having helped to move over 23,000 people permanently to New Zealand there are some that think they have come to heaven, some think they have come to hell and there is a whole lot of bell shaped curviness about the rest who fall somewhere in between.

Our role is not just to help people secure visas but to manage expectations. Usually we do that quite well.

It can be a challenge – for example if you were asked what the people of New Zealand are like ethnically, what would you tell them?

There is some very interesting data that has come out of the 2013 census on just who New Zealanders are in 2014.

This weeks blog could be titled ‘The Rapidly Changing Face of Auckland and the Unchanging Face of the Rest of New Zealand’.

As an Aucklander I can spend time in places like Christchurch, Queenstown, Dunedin and the lower South Island and forget that it is New Zealand. Or perhaps be reminded that demographically and ethnically Auckland no longer resembles the rest of New Zealand. I look around in those parts for people of Asian, Indian or Pacific ethnicities and they are few and far between. Those that I do see tend to be tourists. It is like the old Auckland – the Auckland of my boyhood which was essentially mono cultural and largely white with the majority of the population being of European ethnicity.

I recall as a boy at Primary School in the 1970s having one boy in my class who looked Chinese (but was in fact a third generation New Zealander). His parents ran the local green grocer store. I had one boy of Pacific Island ethnicity – his parents having moved to Auckland from Tonga (and was always a starter for swapping my egg sandwiches for his crisps…).

But that was it on the ethnic front. Everyone else had pink skin and was prone to melanoma, was probably Church of England and had fish and chips for a treat on a Friday night (and Chicken Chop Suey was wildly exotic if they could get it). You could not find a spice store in Auckland and no one ate rice.

What a difference 30 years can make.

The 2013 census has revealed how different Auckland has become to everywhere else in these parts.

By 2013, 56% of the Auckland population now identifies with being of European ethnicity, 21% Asian, 14% Pacific and 10% Maori. I know that is slightly more than 100% but in the census some people tick more than one box on ethnic identity so they get counted twice.

Across New Zealand as a whole those numbers are more like 70% European, 14% Maori, Asian 11% with the balance Pacific (remember some people tick more than one box on this question on census night).

Interesting when you compare our ethnic diversity with that of our Australian neighbours – their percentages are 92% European, 7% Asian and 1% Aboriginal or ‘other’.

So Auckland increasingly stands out in the part of the world as being among the most highly ethnically diverse cities in the world.

By 2013 41% of all Auckland residents were born overseas compared with a little over 20% in the rest of New Zealand (and for example 21% in Christchurch of which I’d hazard a guess a significant percentage are British and Irish).

Over half of all foreign born New Zealanders live in Auckland. Of our 4.4 million population around 1 million were not born in New Zealand. And half of them reside within Auckland’s boundaries and form part of Auckland’s population of 1.5 million.

What is interesting also is how those foreign born faces are changing. Literally.

Foreign born Aucklanders of European ethnicity are increasingly aged over 55, Asians aged 25-29 while the under 20s are dominated by Pacific ethnicities.

I sometimes wonder how we all continue to get along so well and tolerate each other’s differences. Which is a story in itself but I have written about the ‘New Zealandness’ of this before and a very deep rooted sense of fairness and tolerance that means we don’t judge people in one on one situations, we are tolerant and let newcomers integrate if they wish, to live their lives how they want to live them and if they don’t push their lifestyle or religion down my throat then I won’t push mine – and by and large we all get along just fine.

And before this blog attracts any rednecks who tell me we are being over run I often remind myself that my unofficial third son (long story, now 20) thinks Richie McCaw is a living God, wants to play cricket for the Black Caps, loves a good Vindaloo but is happy with a burger and chips or lasagne, sounds when he speaks like my own two sons when he opens his mouth – yet ‘ethnically’ he is Indian having been born in Hyderabad, India and arriving here at age 6.

To anyone who feels threatened by living in one of the world’s great and ethnically diverse cities we have avoided the potential tensions of that rapidly changing ‘face’ because New Zealand has its own wonderful way of turning all your kids in little kiwis.

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