Milestone approaches

When will it happen? Who will it be and where will he or she be born? Or will it be someone born elsewhere and coming here in search of a better life?

A milestone that plenty of New Zealand people who grew up in quieter times will still be struggling to get their heads around is not far away.

Yes, in line with most of the far reaches of the globe, our population is growing - fast - and is predicted to break the five million mark for the first time as soon as the end of this year.

Officially, we are still some way off. The latest figures from the 2018 census, released by Statistics New Zealand last week showed our population was just 4,699,755 but that number is based on 2013 census results (you might recall the 2018 version of the great population survey did not go so well) and will not be revised until March.

Nevertheless, Stats NZ also has a national population estimate which claims to be the most accurate snapshot of how many people are living in the country at one time, and it was up to 4,917,000 at the end of June.

So, the big round number is not far away. And either 2019 or 2020 will join the exclusive club of years in which the Aotearoa population reached a round figure in the millions.

The one-million mark was hit in 1908, when Joseph Ward was the prime minister and the Dunedin Public Library opened its doors; two million in 1952, the year Yvette Williams soared to long jump gold at the Helsinki Olympics; three in 1973, when Britain, in more Euro-friendly times, turned its back on us and joined the EEC, while at home, Fred Dagg appeared on screens for the first time; and four in 2003, when the Silver Ferns were world champions (as they became 16 years later) and the All Blacks were not (as, well, we will see).

It is the pace of growth in recent times that sticks out.

Thirty years to move from three million to four, and just 16 to go from four to five. Up half a million people from the 2013 census to the 2018 census. One new person every 5min 26sec, according to the Stats NZ population clock.

It is the fastest rate of growth in this country since 1961, when baby-boomers were popping out all over the place.

Apart from the fact it feels a little strange to think of our little country at the bottom of the world with five million people, reaching that mark emphasises the need to have sound population growth strategies in place, especially as some experts have predicted the six million mark might follow shortly after.

An ageing population, the environmental impact of an extra million people, housing shortages, public transport, the unique challenges of our biggest city growing by 2% each year - these are issues that are going nowhere.

The other complicated matter is immigration, which is driving the population growth, and the delicate requirement of sensible, fair policies to ease this country's growing pains.

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