The Waitaki district has experienced the largest growth in Pasifika population in New Zealand, according to census figures.
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.
But the figures still do not reflect the district’s true Pasifika population, Auckland University associate professor of Pacific studies Damon Salesa says.
The 2018 census has been criticised over its accuracy and Dr Salesa said it was even less reliable in Oamaru than other places.
The increase in the district’s Pasifika population was still relevant, he said, but the figures were an undercount.
“The response rate for this census [nationwide] was barely two-thirds of Pacific people.
“The intent to channel most of the census online had a really dire impact on the numeration of Pacific people.
“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.”
Oamaru and other smaller centres were becoming more attractive places to live, Dr Salesa said.
“There is a lot about [it] 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.”
Migration 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 community facilities that people are after – things like churches, 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 Pacific population:
Waitaki district’s total population: