The grass is greener for Class Act-ors

More jobs, better pay, warmer weather - what's not to love about Australia? However, the number of New Zealanders settling across the Tasman is slowing, along with the Australian economy. Kim Dungey asks some former Otago Daily Times Class Act recipients now living across the Ditch, if life there really is better.

Tanya Jenkins.
Tanya Jenkins.
When Tanya Jenkins flew to Australia last year, clutching a one-way ticket, she was one of nearly 1800 Otago people in a 12-month period to move there permanently.

The 26-year-old picked up temporary work in the first week and found full-time employment in three months.

Although her job at an insurance firm later disappeared when the unit was moved offshore, she was offered another position in the company and doesn't plan to return to New Zealand. When her first child is born in November, the baby will be an Australian citizen.''

Moving to Australia has been one of the best things I've done ...'' she says, explaining how higher earnings have enabled her to have ''spontaneous weekends away'' and trips back to see her family.''

I feel I have a life that wouldn't be open to me in New Zealand.''

As this year's Otago Daily Times Class Act awards drew near, we asked 11 people who received the award as high school pupils and who are now living across the Tasman if the grass there really is greener.

Jen Stein.
Jen Stein.
Despite reports the economy is deteriorating and the Australian dream is not so perfect after all, the group still saw it as a land of opportunity.

Easily accessible and culturally familiar, Australia has long been a magnet for Kiwis.

But the number leaving our shores increased significantly from the late 1960s and between 1976 and 1982, 103,000 Kiwis settled permanently in Australia, giving rise to Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's quip, ''New Zealanders who leave for Australia raise the IQ of both countries.''

More recently, the exodus inspired a reality television show, The GC, which followed the lives of a group of young New Zealand Maori living on Queensland's Gold Coast.

The 2011 census put the number of New Zealand-born people in Australia at 483,400, which means there are more Kiwis living there than in either Wellington or Christchurch.

Laura Greenwood.
Laura Greenwood.
Even so, the departure of New Zealanders has slowed as Australia's economy - particularly its mining sector - stalls and as the Christchurch rebuild creates new jobs and business opportunities.

Although the number of Kiwis moving to Australia in July was 2500, or the equivalent of South Dunedin's population, the figure was down from 4300 in the same month last year.

Like those who receive Class Act awards - which began in 2000 and recognise excellence in a variety of fields, from academic to sporting and cultural achievements - many of those leaving are New Zealand's best and brightest.

However, Statistics New Zealand says rather than a brain drain, the country has had a ''brain exchange'' with the rest of the world in the past 15 years, with a net loss of people in less skilled jobs and a gain of migrants in more skilled occupations.

Others point out that considerable numbers of Kiwis eventually return to New Zealand and that relative to the New Zealand population, transtasman departures are lower now than they were in the late 1970s.

Jennifer Scott.
Jennifer Scott.
When asked what prompted their move, the former Class Act recipients mentioned more jobs and better pay but also simply wanting ''to go somewhere else''.

Surveyor Bridget Wright's class graduated during the global financial crisis and almost all ended up working overseas. For geologist Jenny Stein, Australia was ''somewhere new without being a culture shock''.

Laura Greenwood was one of several Otago nurses from her year to shift to Melbourne, where specialist graduate programmes promised more qualifications, a better income and greater job satisfaction.''

As I went through my study, it became an appealing stepping stone,'' she explains.''

Once I got here, the incentives to stay - tax breaks, long service leave, pay rate, lifestyle - have made it well worth my while to stick around ... I've been here for seven years now and I think the grass is greener ...''

Josh Howie.
Josh Howie.
• Recent research shows Kiwis' personal incomes are rising, but not nearly as much as those of their Australian counterparts.

At the end of last year, the average New Zealander earned 26.3% or $12,800, less than the average Australian.

According to Roy Morgan Research, New Zealand salaries have increased from $35,000 to $48,600 since 2001 but across the Tasman they grew from $38,800 to $61,400.

That earning power has enabled the Class Act group to travel further afield, accumulate savings and take advantage of the exchange rate by sending money home and paying off their student loans.

Greenwood says she pays no tax on the portion of her income used for her mortgage and meals out, and she and her fiance were eligible for first-home owners' grants of $20,000 each when buying houses in Melbourne.

Jenkins earned $NZ26,000 to $30,000 more in the insurance industry than other new graduates back home and registered nurse Jennifer Scott $NZ8000 to $10,000 more.

Andrew White.
Andrew White.
Others thought it was a good idea that everyone in Australia saves towards retirement from the start of their working lives, with a compulsory payment of 9% of wages into superannuation funds.

Living costs were said to be high by those residing in Perth, but otherwise comparable to New Zealand's.

However, quality of life is more subjective.

An OECD study, which found both countries perform exceptionally well in measures of wellbeing, ranked Australia better in most categories including housing, income, and community engagement, while New Zealand scored better in work-life balance and life satisfaction.

Last year, Finance Minister Bill English put his own take on all this, telling Parliament: ''They can pay more but it's hot and there's lots of flies. We pay less but you can go for a bike ride at lunchtime. Let's stop being so defensive about it.''

Elyse Bennetts.
Elyse Bennetts.
Jenkins, now a part-time business consultant, is adamant she could not achieve the same quality of life or standard of living in New Zealand, simply because the market is smaller and incomes lower.

Josh Howie, who is doing a PhD in mathematics in Melbourne, likes that he can go out any night of the week and see live music, an art exhibition, dance or theatre - something that would never be the case in New Zealand or even most other cities in Australia.

And the warm climate Mr English mentioned was generally seen as a positive, with high summer temperatures giving way to mild winters.

A few had noticed racism directed at Australia's Aboriginal population but apart from some light-hearted mocking of their accents, had not experienced discrimination themselves.

Meanwhile, the fact New Zealanders are excluded from many welfare payments as a result of a law change in 2001 did not rate as a major concern, although the group warn it is something for Kiwis to be aware of.

Emma Wyeth.
Emma Wyeth.
Many miss family and friends, New Zealand's relaxed lifestyle and easy access to the outdoors and four of the 11 indicated they would like to return in the future.

But Howie does not see any opportunities in his area in New Zealand and his next move will probably be to the northern hemisphere. And Jenkins says starting a family has led her to put pressure on her parents to move to Australia, not make her want to move back to New Zealand.

Procurement planning analyst Elyse Bennetts would encourage anyone to make the move, saying the fact many New Zealanders do so and don't return is a clear sign that opportunities continue to grow.''

[It] depends what you are after,'' medical student Andrew White adds, ''but if you can find a job you would enjoy, what's to lose?''

While White reports locals are''interestingly indifferent'' to the world's economic concerns, several have noticed signs of the Australian economy weakening.

Alice Eason.
Alice Eason.
These are partly a result of a slump in commodity prices and fading investment in the mining sector.

Jennifer Scott says the mine her partner works at is struggling due to falling metal prices and Australia is moving too slowly towards sustainable energy resources.

Jenny Stein has seen some of her colleagues made redundant and thinks the Australian bubble has burst, at least as far as the resources sector is concerned.

She is returning to New Zealand because of illness in her family but doubted work prospects for geologists here would be better.

The group, aged 25 to 30, did sound one note of caution - New Zealanders arriving without a job offer or qualifications may struggle.

''I do believe there are generally more opportunities here due to the larger population,'' Bridget Wright says.

''But ... there are a lot of young New Zealanders who move here thinking they'll get a job easily ... and soon realise it's just the same as at home: if you don't have the experience or qualifications, they won't hire you.''

Brand manager Emma Wyeth feels there is no place like home but moving to Australia is a good opportunity to experience a different culture, broaden career experience and earn more money.

Radiographer Alice Eason joined thousands of other Kiwis on the Gold Coast in 2009, then moved around the country working as a locum.

She now lives in a mining town in the outback of northwest Queensland, where she's on a ''good'' wage and has accommodation provided.

The 27-year-old intended to work in Australia for two years then move home to buy a house and settle down, but her plan has changed.

''I wake up every morning to blue sky, work with a great bunch of people and get three months' annual leave a year,'' she says.

''I love my lifestyle in Australia.''


Class acts

The former Class Act recipients we interviewed:

Elyse Bennetts, a procurement planning analyst in Perth, attended Roxburgh Area School.

Alice Eason, a radiographer in Mt Isa, Queensland, attended The Catlins Area School.

Laura Greenwood, a nurse in Melbourne, attended St Kevin's College.

Alan Hoffman, a quantity surveyor based in Perth, attended Otago Boys' High School.

Josh Howie, who is doing a PhD in mathematics in Melbourne, attended South Otago High School.

Tanya Jenkins, a business consultant in Melbourne, attended Tokomairiro High School.

Jennifer Scott, a nurse in Broken Hill, New South Wales, attended Bayfield High School.

Jenny Stein, a geologist in Perth until returning to Dunedin this week, attended Otago Girls' High School.

Andrew White, a medical student in Melbourne, attended Mt Aspiring College.

Bridget Wright, a surveyor in Canberra, attended Columba College.

Emma Wyeth, a brand manager in Melbourne, attended Gore High School.


The numbers

• A total of 46,300 people left New Zealand, planning to settle in Australia, in the year ended July 2013.

• That's roughly equivalent to the populations of Oamaru, Queenstown, Alexandra, Cromwell, Balclutha and Milton combined.

• However, the net loss of 29,200 people to Australia was down from 39,800 in the July 2012 year. The 46,300 departures were down 7600 and offset by 17,100 arrivals (up 3100). In both directions, most migrants were New Zealand citizens.

• The net loss of 1200 migrants to Australia in July this year (the latest month for which there are records) was the smallest loss since November 2009 and well down from a high of 3500 recorded in July 2012.


This year

This year's Class Act winners will be profiled in an Otago Daily Times supplement on Monday and will receive their awards from Prime Minister John Key in Dunedin on Thursday.


Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter