Story: Kiwis overseas

Page 4. Migration to Australia

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Across the ditch

Australia, with its warmer climate, larger population and similar culture, has often been considered by New Zealanders an ideal place to settle. Australia was a popular destination even for the earliest New Zealanders; in 1861 an estimated 1,350 New Zealand-born people were living there.

The invention of air travel changed the geography of Australasia. Because of economies of scale, today’s Auckland–Brisbane flights can be cheaper than those between Auckland and Invercargill. The 1973 Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement formalised a long-standing understanding that Australians and New Zealanders could visit, live and work in each other’s countries without restriction. Australia was no longer over the sea – it was just across the ditch.

Migration reflected relative economic conditions. In the 1860s many Australians crossed the Tasman Sea, attracted by the Otago and Westland goldfields. In the 1880s many New Zealanders crossed back as ‘marvellous Melbourne’ continued to prosper while New Zealand went into depression. There was very little migration either way from the 1930s to the 1960s. From the late 1960s Kiwis poured into Australia. This flow surged in the late 1970s. Between 1976 and 1982, 103,000 New Zealanders settled permanently in Australia. New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, Robert Muldoon, had a ready reply to complaints: ‘New Zealanders who leave for Australia raise the IQ of both countries’. 1

From shearers and miners working in the outback, to retired people on the Gold Coast, to professionals in Sydney: New Zealanders are everywhere, as witnessed by the prevalence of Kiwi jokes. But stereotypical perceptions of Kiwis as dole bludgers living at Bondi Beach are unfounded. In 2002, 83% of New Zealanders in Australia were employed.

No loss, no gain

In 2001 a New Zealand Treasury study concluded that due to a common labour market, New Zealand–Australia migration was unique:

‘New Zealand consistently loses its citizens to Australia, but they are not just the highest skilled. Instead, they are representative of the general population of New Zealand …There is no brain drain to Australia … but what might be called a "same drain”.’ 2

The expatriate community

In 1996 there were 291,388 New Zealand-born in Australia; by 2006 this had grown to 389,463, and in 2013 the figure was 483,398. This made it easily the largest New Zealand expatriate community in the world, and a far higher number than that of any single foreign-born population in New Zealand. Successful migrants such as satirist John Clarke (Fred Dagg), actor Russell Crowe, film-maker Jane Campion, and Snowy Mountains hydroelectric engineer William Hudson, among many others, have been claimed by Australians as their own.

Between 1996 and 2000, New Zealanders were the largest immigrant group arriving in Australia. The net annual permanent growth in Australia’s New Zealand population increased from less than 3,000 in 1991–92 to almost 30,000 in 1999–2000. By the 2000s, over one in 10 New Zealanders lived in Australia.

In 2000, Kiwis living in Australia were mainly of working age; 62% were between 20 and 49 years old. In 1996, 25% lived in Sydney, 24% in Brisbane, 12% in Melbourne, 10% in Perth, and a further 6% in other cities. The remaining 24% were scattered in other areas. For most migrants, crossing the Tasman promises a better lifestyle, greater economic opportunities and working conditions, and a sunnier climate. A substantial proportion of those migrating to Australia do not intend to return.

New Zealanders are culturally very similar to Australians, and intermarriage is common. Expatriates’ children often have divided loyalties. It is difficult to say when one becomes more Aussie than Kiwi; the acid test is probably allegiance during international sporting contests.

Who gets in and who pays?

In 2001, 96,000 Kiwis drew some kind of Australian welfare. In the early 2000s Australia claimed the annual cost was as high as AUS$1.1 billion. New Zealand pointed to the contribution its citizens made to the Australian economy, including tax payments of around AUS$2.8 billion per year.

For those living in New Zealand who were not New Zealand-born, the country was seen as ‘a back door‘ into Australia. Throughout the 1990s the number of non-New Zealanders moving to Australia grew from 960 a year to almost 10,000. This figure represented more than one in 10 of the annual migrants settling in Australia in 2000. Many of them would not have gained entry any other way.

In 2001 new restrictions required New Zealanders to obtain permanent residence if they wished to access social security, gain citizenship or sponsor other people for permanent residence. While these restrictions applied to New Zealanders in Australia, the converse did not apply, reflecting the fact that there were eight times more New Zealanders in Australia than Australians in New Zealand. Australian officials expected New Zealand migrants to halve under the new restrictions.

  1. Harry Orsman and Jan Moore, eds. Heinemann dictionary of New Zealand quotations. Auckland: Heinemann, 1988, p. 488. › Back
  2. Hayden Glass and Wai Kin Choy, ‘Brain drain or brain exchange?’, New Zealand Treasury, › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Kiwis overseas - Migration to Australia', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 17 Sep 2014