• Massey University Distinguished Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor Paul Spoonley.
  • Massey University Distinguished Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor Paul Spoonley.
  • Massey University Distinguished Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor Paul Spoonley.

Massey at the fore of the immigration debate

Massey University Distinguished Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor Paul Spoonley lives in Torbay and is based at Massey University’s Auckland campus in Albany. As an internationally recognised professor of sociology, he’s vitally interested in and has become a key figure in the national and local debates about the merits – and need for – immigration, especially as he sees the North Shore as a microcosm of the major demographic changes occurring in New Zealand.

“The North Shore really does represent the future face of New Zealand,” says Paul. “It’s culturally diverse, it’s got an ageing population, but it’s also got one of the lowest fertility rates in New Zealand. It’s growing rapidly and that growth is putting pressure on infrastructure. So we’ve got all the upsides and some of the downsides of growth. It also has one of the highest tertiary qualified populations in New Zealand, and economically and socially is one of the key growth nodes for the country. It is an exciting place to be. Twenty first century – here we are.”

Originally from the Hawkes Bay and a school that told him he was not university material (“Six degrees later”, he laughs, “I decided they were wrong.”), Paul moved to the North Shore as Auckland Regional Director when Massey University opened its Auckland campus in 1994. Massey University, he says, “made a crucial decision to be located here [in Albany] when other tertiary institutions weren’t. It’s been a fascinating journey.”

In addition to his role at Massey University, Paul is also Principal Investigator on the MBIE-funded programme, CaDDANZ (Capturing the Diversity Dividend of Aotearoa New Zealand), which is halfway through a long-term research programme to better understand the dynamics driving population change and growth. CaDDANZ, he says, generates the evidence “to inform and challenge thinking”.

Paul believes much of the debate about growth and, in particular, Auckland’s growth pains, is wrongly focused on immigration, which he says firmly is just one of several drivers irrevocably changing our lifestyles and ways of thinking. There is no doubt that immigration has remade the North Shore, and Auckland, in the last 20-25 years. New “ethnoburbs” (where people of a particular ethnicity are in higher concentrations), have emerged. “The migrants that come to the North Shore tend to be concentrated in affluent suburbs because they want their children to go to high decile schools.”

“The number of people born overseas will keep rising,” says Paul, and the most obvious growth will be among the Asian communities.

“We talk about the digital disruption that digital technologies are causing societies like ours; we should also talk about demographic disruption. New Zealand is changing its population structure as rapidly as any country.”

He recognises that there is “a level of anxiety” around these changes; that’s one of the reasons he’s a frequently sought-after speaker and media commentator. He believes that as a researcher, he has a responsibility to inform and engage the public about demographic change. “I’m a cheerleader for some of these changes because I think they open our eyes to different worlds, and hopefully give us different ways of understanding possibilities.”

But he’s clear that the debate should not be focused solely (let alone primarily) on immigration. We need immigration, he says, because our fertility rates are dropping (the North Shore’s is well below replacement level) and because our population is ageing. “If you cut immigration, you inhibit economic and jobs growth. We’re in a conundrum: immigrants contribute to the demand for housing, for example, but we desperately need their skills, labour and connections. We certainly need to acknowledge that the rate of immigration is putting pressure on services and infrastructure, the provision of public transport, the pollution on the beaches.

“Auckland, and the North Shore in particular, are growing very rapidly at present. We look around us and think when did the North Shore become so multicultural? We need to talk about what that means in terms of how we live together.

“But immigration is often blamed for issues not of its making. I would prefer a discussion around population growth, and what we should do about the ageing of our population or our declining fertility rates. We need to understand all the moving parts and not isolate and blame immigration.”

Paul Spoonley and his research team at Massey will continue to advance the debate in whatever ways they can, including through research undertaken on behalf of local and national government agencies.  He can only hope that the work he undertakes and the debates he initiates influence planning for the future, and our understanding of all the impacts of rapid demographic change.

Massey University www.massey.ac.nz