National admits brain drain to Aust

National admits New Zealand is losing skills as record numbers of people move across the Tasman, but says emigrants can't be held back at the border.

Statistics New Zealand figures show a record 49,000 people left permanently for Australia in the year to October.

It has recorded the first net loss from migration since 2001, with 100 more people leaving the country than arriving from all other countries.

Closing the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand was one of National's major policies in the last election in 2008, with John Key pledging to keep home those who feel forced to flee for a higher pay packet.

National's Finance Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand today that the only thing that would end the exodus was to back economic policies that would create jobs and opportunities at home.

"You can't stand at the border and hold them back. People need to see the incentives with jobs and opportunities, they need to feel like New Zealand is doing well enough to retain their talent.''

He defended National's three-year term, the Government had been dealing with bad policy and a gap that had grown over the last 20-30 years.

It would take considered and consistent change over time, he said, and the Government was putting in place policies that support businesses that want to employ and create opportunities that provide people with skills.

He said there had been a Christchurch effect, which saw many leave their earthquake-ravaged city for a new life in Australia.

He admitted the country was losing skills, but said the Government had to focus on easing debts and getting back into surplus in a shaky economy.

Labour's finance spokesman David Cunliffe said the exodus to Australia had accelerated under the current Government and the wage gap had grown from 30 per cent in 2008 to 35 per cent now.

Mr Cunliffe said the Government was not willing to take the steps needed to enforce monetary reform to ensure a less volatile exchange rate.

He recommended strengthening savings and said Labour's school to work policy would place school-leavers into employment.

Meanwhile, Manpower Group Australia New Zealand managing director Lincoln Crawley told Radio New Zealand a taskforce should be set up to understand why people were moving across the Ditch.

He said the taskforce, which should be made up of representatives from the industry, immigration and education sectors, should look at how to attract and keep skilled workers here.

But the latest figures shouldn't cause a flurry of panic, he said.


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