Is the latest census data revealing a trend of slowing population growth or is it simply a temporary break from the rapid growth seen in the previous years? The data shows that New Zealand’s population grew at an average annual rate of 0.7% from 2006 to 2013 compared with an average annual rate of 1.5% from 2001 to 2006. Even Auckland, the great driver of population growth, halved its average annual rate of 2.4% between 2001 and 2006 to 1.2% between 2006 and 2013. Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson thinks this reduced rate of growth is cause to call Auckland’s infrastructure plans, such as the central rail loop, in question. Yet the question remains, is this slowing growth rate temporary or simply an anomaly due to a number of influences beyond our control such as the Christchurch Earthquakes and the Global Financial Crisis?
In the long term, New Zealand’s population growth rate is projected to slow, as is the population of the entire world, yet New Zealand’s population was not projected to slow as quickly as it did in the past 7 years. The key driver of the slowing growth rate was the large-scale emigration of New Zealanders to Australia in recent years resulting in negative net migration for a short while. However, New Zealand’s population growth rate is starting to increase again due to an increase in net migration to New Zealand. This is underpinned by a relatively stable TFR, around replacement level, and demographic momentum, which means that although the average age of New Zealand’s population may be increasing, births still vastly outnumber deaths.
The slowed growth rates of the past few years may have given us some ‘breathing space’ in the inexorable race to fill up the last major landmass on the planet to be discovered by humans. Unfortunately, it is likely that the rate of population growth will have increased come the next census and we will be living with the consequences of such growth such as continued urban sprawl, congestion and a housing ‘crisis’ that never ends.