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The Waitaki district's Pasifika population is growing at the fastest rate in the country, according to census figures.
But Auckland University associate professor of Pacific studies Damon Salesa says the 2018 census does not reflect the district's true Pasifika population.
Data from the 2018 census reveals the number of Pacific people living in the Waitaki district rose 291% between 2006 and 2018, from 219 to 858.
Dr Salesa said the increase in the district's Pasifika population was still relevant, but it was definitely an undercount of the actual population.
Earlier this year, Statistics New Zealand revealed that one in seven New Zealanders did not complete last year's census - the worst turnout in decades.
Across the country, the collection response rate for Pacific people was about 65% (2013, 88.3%), when calculated using the traditional New Zealand method.
"The intent to channel most of the census online had a really dire impact on the numeration of Pacific people," Dr Salesa said.
"These are the numbers they base DHBs [funding], electorates on. These are not just empty numbers and their lack of reliability has consequences.
"If we were imagining where we were seeing that effect, we might see it most in Oamaru."
Based on national averages, the Pasifika population of the Waitaki district would be about 1320 of 22,308 people.
Oamaru and other smaller centres were becoming more attractive places for Pasifika people to live, Dr Salesa said.
"There is a lot about [Oamaru] which actually accords with Pacific values - it's close to the sea, it's got the sort of church and school facilities that people want.
"It makes a life possible that isn't possible in Auckland.
"The cost of living is so dramatically lower in a place like Oamaru that you can lift your standard of living for the same wage in a way that is unthinkable in Auckland."
Movement from Auckland to the regions was a recognised phenomenon, but Oamaru and the Waitaki district had the advantage of a "critical mass", where community support already existed for Pacific people, Dr Salesa said.
"You get that sense of community, and ... social groups, language groups.
"The type of chain migration that took people to the suburbs in Auckland can work in the same way to move people out of Auckland to places like Oamaru."
Ten to 15 years ago, Pacific people were migrating to Australia in search of a better standard of living, but places like Oamaru could now provide that, he said.
"Now they can achieve the same thing by moving to places where there is reliable and decent work, decent housing, and a better safety net than if they went to Australia."
Waitaki district’s population. —
20,223 (Total population)
—Source: Stats NZ