Pacific Scoop

NZ must plan for future before Pacific population growth ‘gets out of hand’

Migration work

Pacific seasonal labour ... critically important for New Zealand to prepare for migration. Photo: Devzone

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Taberannang Korauaba

New Zealand needs to plan quickly for the future before population growth problems in neighbouring countries get out of hand, says a leading Pacific demographer.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor Research of AUT University, Professor Richard Bedford, said the problems stemming from population growth were becoming serious in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

“In Kiribati, of the 100,000 population, 50 percent live in urban Tarawa while in Solomon Islands of its 500, 000 population, 20 percent live in urban areas,’ Dr Bedford said.

He described what would happen, what their children would do, and how life would look like in these two island nations in 50 years.

The issue of population growth in these neighbouring islands is being slowly understood in New Zealand, Dr Bedford told a Pasifika writing fono organised by AUT University.

It is not just about doing research in New Zealand about the Pacific, it was about doing research in these countries to study their economy, population growth and migration.

Polynesia and Micronesia had relationships with New Zealand through migrant schemes such as Pacific Access Category and Recognised Seasonal Employment with Australia had recently launched its work scheme and other training programmes.

Selected families
Tuvalu had a population of 10,000 with 75 families being selected every year under the PAC scheme, Dr Bedford said.

In Kiribati’s case, which has a population of about 100,000, it was also eligible for 75 families, he said.

Based on the populations of these countries, Dr Bedford said he would like to see a new quota of 750 families for Kiribati and 75 for Tuvalu.

He said several people in Kiribati had argued that they should have a right to migrate to New Zealand, Australia and Britain because these countries had extracted phosphates from their land and parts of their land were mixed with the soil of these countries.

It was critically important for New Zealand to plan now before it was too late, Dr Bedford said.

These countries had no means to meet their growing population due to their small size, limited resource and poor infrastructure.

Climate change and sea level rise, water problems and land disputes were becoming big issues for these countries, he said.

Technical training
Kiribati had trained its people in technical, carpentry and mechanical skills so they could contribute to a country they would migrate to.
But Dr Bedford said there was a New Zealand and Australian “oriented approach”.

He said he would like to see more interesting ideas to help reduce population problems in these countries.

He said other countries such as Niue and Cook Islands were experiencing depopulation problems.

“This is a blessing and curse for these two island countries,” he said.

The government of Niue and Cook Islands needed to look at other options apart from renovating and creating opportunities on the outer islands.

“It’s very difficult for these people to come back to their islands unless there’s something important there for them,” he said.

He warned that the experiences of Polynesians would not provide answers for the Melanesians and Micronesians’ problems, he said.

With regard to Western Pacific countries such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Dr Bedford said New Zealand was reluctant to engage them in its migrant and employment schemes because they were perceived to be the “responsibility” of Australia.

Taberannang Korauaba is a Masters in Communication Studies student at AUT University and the publisher of the Kiribati Independent.


  1. Mark, 5. July 2011, 8:19

    Another waffling expert. Niue doesn’t have any outer islands. There is plenty of important things to do in Niue but Niuean expats lack imagination and drive. The few who do return add greatly to social fabric but they a few and far between.

  2. Coralia, 5. July 2011, 10:42

    Overpopulation in Kiribati & Tuvalu….really????..mmm probably carrying capacity issues stemming from diminishing land area (direct effect of climate change)….

    When you talk overpopulation in the South Pacific….you’re talking MSG member states.

    But I like the pro-active stance taken by NZ in being socially responsible for the Pacific’s climate refugees…Australia should take its cue from here. After all they’re one of the biggest climate change culprits…right???….mmm Rio Tinto comes to mind.

  3. Stuart Wardell, 5. July 2011, 20:12

    The entire South Pacific, including every island microstate, Australia, New Zealand, PNG and occupied New Guinea, should be a single federated common market with a common immigration policy and open borders to all natives. This is not altruism. It is enlightened self-interest. Even in total, we barely make up one moderate-sized country in today’s world, and we need to stand together to preserve our region. And besides, I want the right to live on the beach under a coconut palm too!