What’s a good population for New Zealand?

In Packed to the rafters Duncan Garner asks what the ideal size for New Zealand would be.

This week the population was ticking past 4,792,550.

We are now the fastest-growing country in the OECD. That’s because we make it easy. We welcome immigrants, we welcome their families, we want their businesses – and their money. At all costs.

Infrastructure expert Stephen Selwood noted this week that given our population increase we need to be building a city the size of Nelson every year just to keep up, along with all its relevant highways, roads, drains, footpaths and houses.

We’re not even close to doing this. Our public policy-makers have let us all down. Big time.

Do our cities (especially Auckland) not want the growth that our Governments have wanted and allowed?

It’s a disaster. We need a proper debate about our population. What is the ideal size of our country? Is it 6 million? Is it 8 million? And how fast do we want to get there?

We need a public conversation about the size of our country, we needed it more than a debate about our bloody flag. And we still need it.

It’s easy (or at least it should be easy) to have a debate and a couple of referendums on our flag.

It’s a lot more difficult to have a debate about something changing as much as our population.

I suspect many people want the benefits of population growth without the additional people.

With immigration, some people win – but as many economists point out, many Kiwis lose out with rising house prices and foreigners competing for jobs.

We shouldn’t resent these immigrants. It’s not their fault. They’re just trying to find a better life. They’re ambitious for success. Good on them. Who doesn’t want a better life?

We need immigrants. They’re hard workers. And overwhelmingly the stats show they are not over-represented in crime.

Here’s the stat that got me this week:  For the year to March we issued 43,000 work visas, yet we have 140,000 Kiwis unemployed or wanting more hours.

I just don’t get it. If we have people available for work, why the hell aren’t we making them work?

It’s not easy to make people work, especially if they don’t have the skills or don’t want to move to where work is.

Clearly our employers prefer immigrants, our welfare system is encouraging lazy Kiwis to sit at home, and maybe a market economy like ours prefers keeping 140,000 unemployed while we bring in cheaper, hard-working foreigners. I sense all of the above is true.

We should also have a proper discussion about unemployment levels. It may be that there is a proportion of the population that either isn’t in a current position to work, perhaps for family or health reasons, or are incapable of productive work.

We used to hide the unemployable in mental institutions and hospitals, or give them jobs where over staffing meant they didn’t have to be productive, even if they were capable.

Back to population – what should we be aiming at? A continual increase, on average?


We had a similar increase in 2016 (slightly more). Fluctuations tend to mirror Australian changes.

An increase of 1.9% per year may not seem much but it adds up over time. Approximate projections if it keeps going at a similar rate.

  • 2017 – 4,792,000
  • 2020 – 5,070,000
  • 2025 – 5,571,000
  • 2030 – 6,121,000
  • 2035 – 6,725,000
  • 2040 – 7,388,000
  • 2045 – 8,117,000
  • 2050 – 8,918,000
  • 2057 – 10,174,000

So the population could more than double in 40 years. And that’s for the country as a whole.

Auckland is likely to grow at a faster rate. Both from immigration and also from population movements within the country.

A Stats New Zealand medium-variant scenario predicts that the population of Auckland will reach 1.93 million by 2013, just 14 years away. It is currently about 1.377 million.

If the Auckland population increases at the current national average it would be 2,562,000 by 2050, nearly double what it is now.

Imagine the impact that would have on housing and transport.

This is obviously all dependant on future Government immigration policies, and other factors like nuclear holocausts elsewhere and natural disasters here. International social or political changes may encourage Kiwis to return to New Zealand in bigger numbers.

It’s also dependent on politics, and the possible election of an anti-immigration government – like NZ First or even Labour, Andrew Little says he wants to reduce annual immigration by tens of thousands.

Immigration and population should be openly and properly discussed.

However election year is probably not the best time to do it as parties and leaders try to target voters who might respond to populist promises.

Leave a comment


  1. Corky

     /  29th April 2017

    I still remember going to the railway station in the 70’s as part of my job. It was winter and we had a wagon to load and another to unload. Up and down the yard big 44 gallon drums were burning wood to keep workers warm while they played cards, drunk coffee or stretched out to relax. In the two hours we were there the only time these captains of industrialness moved was to rummage through a pallet of high end shoes damaged by a forklift.

    When Douglas clean this rort out, my guess was many of these unemployables were only fit for the dole.

    What should our population max be? In my opinion no more than 8 to 10 million. Who wants the claustrophobia many feel in Asian countries and places like New York City? What tourists love about NZ is the fact we have space and you can encounter few people if that’s your wish.


  2. Oliver

     /  29th April 2017

    We should only allow immigrants here on short term work visas. 1 year max per applicant with no path to residence. That will take care of the skills and Labour shortage.

    We should stop all residence application. Most of them are British. We don’t need British people. We can allow a small amount of refugees. 2000 per year should be enough.

    Lastly having reviewed all policies on immigration. I think the The Opportunities party has the best.

  3. “Immigration and population should be openly and properly discussed … However election year is probably not the best time to do it as parties and leaders try to target voters who might respond to populist promises”

    So much for (so-called) ‘democracy’ … the election of parties and leaders in response to populist promises …

    What’s wrong with election year? Or is it better to discuss it using a partisan ‘appointed panel’ afterwards, comprising chosen coalition party supporters like NZ Initiative & ACT party, Hobson’s Pledge & KFL ‘fellows’ …

    Gotta disagree with you Oliver about TOPs immigration policy, vis, “We need to focus on skilled people that are looking for a more liberal and tolerant society in the wake of Brexit, Trump and the march of ugly nationalism engulfing Europe” … like we did in the wake of Thatcher’s neoliberalism, EU open door policies and the end of Apartheid … when we surely got the cream of the ‘European’ crop …

    ” … This will require changes to our visa regime, and international brand. The latter needs to present us as a tech-savvy nation with great lifestyles, to markets such as Europe, the UK, Asia and the US” …

    “There’s a big downside from too many migrants, particularly if they are working in low-skilled jobs” … That’s the one. Leave the low-skilled jobs for Kiwis …

    Aside from source countries in “Asia”, this may be incompatible with his ‘Democracy Reset’ policies, including a stress on honouring the Treaty of Waitangi … and what he calls ‘Ethnic Rights’?

    • It should be a good time to discuss issues of importance like this but the chances of having a useful non-partisan discussion are slight.

      • The chances of having a useful non-partisan discussion are slight or worse than slight at any time at all … When and where would it be done non-partisan?

        • I think it would be possible to set up a system of non-partisan discussion on any issue of importance, and in fact we should look seriously at how to do this. Complaining about what is failing won’t get us anywhere.

          • Gezza

             /  29th April 2017

            People have been trying to governments to agree on establishing a population policy & fitting immigration into it for decades. No government has agreed to it yet but the complexities involved are easily apparent.

          • @PG – “I think it would be possible to set up a system of non-partisan discussion on any issue of importance … ”

            Me too Pete, and I’ve said so repeatedly and often on here. However, would involve some degree of ‘democracy reset’ towards more consensual and less combative forms of government; something only TOP and Matike Mai Aotearoa are actually talking about …

            Non-partisan doesn’t serve the party political, either/or, lobby-group, polarisation-and-dichotomy, bear-pit format for which immigration is a cosy hot potato issue …

            So until it happens, I’ll go right on complaining …

  1. What’s a good population for New Zealand? – NZ Conservative Coalition

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