On The Nation yesterday Bill English said projected significant increases in net migration were due to less New Zealanders going overseas and more New Zealanders coming back, plus the normal about 50,000 new immigrants, slightly under maximums allowed.
English acknowledged pressure on schools and hospitals from the increase in net migration, but said National had no plans to tighten the rules.
Lisa Owen: Good morning Mr English. I want to start with immigration. Treasury is predicting that by December net migration will be about 38,000. So that means more growth, more taxes, more people and more skills coming into the country. Do you welcome that?
Bill English: Well the turnaround is a reduction, a sharp reduction in the number of New Zealanders leaving New Zealand. And that’s what gives you the shift in the net figure. The number of people coming in has been pretty steady now for a number of years in New Zealand and that does bring skills that we need, it brings family members for existing migrants. And that number hasn’t altered. In fact most years we don’t quite meet the limits that have been set.
But it has been steadily high-
It has been. It’s around 50,000, 60,000 and it’s been steady for a long time. But look it’s part of a growing economy. It’s a measure of success with the economy that more New Zealanders decide to stay home.
But even you would accept that brings challenges. Just this week you were saying that you were seeing pressure on schools. Tell us about that -
Well we see because people aren’t leaving, there are schools where is there’s roll growth pressure and the Ministry of Education is working on that. There are other challenges. I mean a lot of people have mentioned that it puts a bit more pressure on the housing market and that’s why it’s so important that we continue with our measures to improve the supply of housing as quickly as possible.
Presumably on things like hospitals as well too when you have a growing population?
That’s right. And there’s always been pressure on our hospitals with migrants turning up with people who may or may not qualify for free care. There’s nothing particularly new about that.
But in saying that we have had this steady flow of people coming into the country, what planning have you done to prepare for that?
Well there’s always planning to prepare for it, particularly around government infrastructure, to make sure there are enough hospital beds, that there is growth in school classrooms.
But specifics here, you’ve said that there is pressure on the school roll. So what specific planning have you done in relation to schools? Can we expect more schools? Whereabouts do we need them?
Ah yes. The answer to that is yes. The Ministry of Education has working on that. In any case in our growth population areas there has been pressure on schools for years and they are doing a better job now of getting ahead of that growth. Although the turnaround in the number of new – the reduction in the number of New Zealanders leaving has been fairly sharp and so the Ministry of Education is running pretty hard to keep ahead of it.
So how are you in the short term going to keep pace with that?
Oh just more classrooms. There’s money allocated in the Budget as part of an overall programme for the year to get more classrooms to the schools where the children are turning up.
So do you have a number for how many more schools we might need?
Look I couldn’t give you the number off the top of head. There is an ongoing growth programme and the Ministry of Education and the Government have agreed that rather than wait until growth turns up and there’s a problem, they are trying to get ahead of that. Money is not a constraint to that. Often it’s a simple as finding the land and getting the classrooms to the right schools.
So in light of all of this, do you think it’s time to start considering a cap on immigration?
Well there is a cap on the number of people coming in. What we don’t have rules about is how many are leaving. And in fact we like them staying, it’s a good thing. We don’t regard that as a problem. But it is a challenge for the economy.
To counter that, should we be taking less other people? Fewer other people coming in?
Well in our view we don’t see a strong case for changing that right now. A steady inflow that allows us to get the skills that we need, also bringing close family members for people who are already here, has been a steady successful policy for New Zealand. It’s helped grow our economy.
But if you don’t see a need right now to do that, that leaves the door open to the fact that you can see in the not too distant future, that may be something you have to address?
No we don’t see a case for that because what is happening is less New Zealanders going overseas. That’s a development we welcome.