Cook Islands Urged To Fight Out-Migration With Better Opportunities

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Finance minister claims residents prefer wage rates elsewhere

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 25, 2012) – Finance minister Mark Brown has said the Cook Islands must focus on improving its knowledge economy in order to increase opportunities for local people.

Speaking during a live radio interview with Matariki FM, Brown addressed the country’s biggest problem – depopulation – which he said is prevalent around the region.

"Depopulation is occurring right around the region," Brown said on air. "Sixty thousand New Zealanders in the last three months migrated to (Australia) – that’s 20,000 a month that just got on the plane and left."

He said New Zealand’s problem mirrors that of the Cook Islands, as people are leaving for similar reasons.

"Cook Islanders here that won’t accept the wages that are being paid here, (they) prefer to get the wages being paid in New Zealand or Australia so that employment gap is being met by our foreign worker population, which is filling the gap here and willing to work at Cook Islands rates because Cook Islands rates are higher than rates in Fiji or the Philippines.

"It’s a cycle that’s repeating itself around the world, really," he said, noting that New Zealanders are moving in droves to Australia as Australian executives seek work in Asia.

Brown said depopulation is not a recent phenomenon in the Cook Islands.

"Depopulation has been occurring since before the international airport opened... the first lot of migrants to New Zealand was in the 1950s to the meat works. When the airport opened another wave of migration took place there and we did go through a brief period of population increase in the early (1990s). (The) reform process led to a start of depopulation which has continued to this day," he said.

In order to arrest depopulation, he says, the Cook Islands must increase opportunities for its people. He noted that times are changing, as the economy has shifted from a focus on agriculture to tourism, and that by keeping up with the rest of the world the Cook Islands can retain its people.

"If we want to shift up to another level of prosperity we have to start increasing other sectors such as the knowledge economy(we have to) invest in technology to enable that to happen but also need to invest in education.

"If we look at figures for salaries, salaries earned by people who just finished secondary school are significantly lower than salaries of people who have bachelor’s degrees and lower still than people who have masters’ and PhD degrees," he said.

"Investment in knowledge and investment in education is a critical component if we want to lift the standard of income we are earning and transform the type of economy we have now from a purely service-based one to one that is also based on knowledge and research development."

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