7 Aug 2015

Defusing the demographic time bomb

9:02 am on 7 August 2015

Treaty settlements in Taranaki have been described as a potential game changer in the battle to defuse a demographic time bomb ticking in the province.

The slopes of Mount Taranaki in cloud.

The slopes of Mount Taranaki. Photo: Pseudopanax at en.wikipedia

Massey University Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Spoonley said modest population growth in Taranaki would soon be replaced by stagnation, and that nearly all future growth will be in the over 65s.

The province also suffers a net loss of those aged between 15 and 24, and cannot hold onto its international migrants.

Speaking at a New Zealand Forum in New Plymouth last week, Professor Spoonley said Māori, who make up 17.4 percent of the Taranaki population, could play a significant role in stemming the tide.

"If you look at the median ages of the population, for the New Zealand Pākehā the average age is in their 40s - for Maori, it is just a little over 20.

"That tells me when you look at the younger cohort more and more of them are going to be Māori, and it is going to be very very important that they be engaged, particularly in education and that they are successful in education."

Professor Spoonley said that was important because 14 percent of 15 to 24 year olds in Taranaki were not in education, employment or training (NEETS), and many of these were Māori.

Seven of Taranaki's eight iwi have completed Treaty settlements - or are near doing so - for a total worth close to $400 million.

Professor Spoonley said that cash injection could make a huge difference to the Taranaki economy, but he still has reservations.

"You are beginning to see much more significant iwi players and organisations in the region. and they are going to redefine the future of Taranaki as well.

"My concern is that they're going to be able to help make sure younger Māori cohorts as they come through are going to be successful, educationally and economically."

Allie Hemara-Wahanui, a community development manager at Parinīnihi ki Waitōtara who was at the forum last week, said she believed Māori had not been included in the demographic debate in a meaningful way up until now.

"I think in terms of Taranaki moving forward, the role of Māori and iwi as well is huge.

"I also think that in terms of the next 20 years in terms of what that might look like and how we as a community prepare and position for that is a conversation we have to start having now."

Ms Hemara-Wahanui said one of the values that Māori could bring to the conversation was a focus on community.

"In terms of the Treaty settlements and how that can actually benefit their community, which is actually our community, is a real point of value to explore further."

Professor Spoonley is part way through a major $5.5 million Government-funded study Capturing the Diversity Dividend of Aotearoa/New Zealand and his presentation in New Plymouth was based on preliminary results of this research.

He advocates provinces should set up proactive immigration policies of their own to arrest population decline and skills shortages that will ultimately lead to economic decline.

His research on the impact of demographic changes to the Taranaki region will be completed within two years.

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