Migrants are beneficial to the economy of Selwyn: Mayor
Kelvin Coe, the Mayor of Selwyn district just South of Christchurch, talks about the economic benefits of migrants in his region and how the demographics of Selwyn has changed over the last decade or so.
Can you start by telling something about yourself?
I’ve lived in the South Island pretty much all my life. Barring some time in my younger days when I was based up North. I’ve been a farming lad for the last 40 years. I live near the edge of Lake Ellesmere. I’ve been involved in various community activities for quite a long time.
What about your political career?
You go through the usual things. The local committees, sports cubs, and then I was involved with Federated Farmers for some time. I was the provincial president North Canterbury Federated Farmers before I took on the job as a Councillor. It was 1995, when I came on the council. I have been the Mayor of Selwyn for the last nine years getting elected in 2007.
How has the demographic of your district changed in the last decade?
The change has speeded up but we’ve always had, in Lincoln for instance, a very diverse population relating to the University and the scientific organizations – crop, and food research. So we’ve always had a strong diversity in Lincoln. But you’re seeing it’s more widespread now. It’s spreading out, and we have, just as many others have, people working in agriculture. Especially from the Philippines. But they’re not the only ones. There’s people from South America as well, so there’s a range of people involved here. They’re filling a gap in the skill base we have here, so that’s been a real plus to our economy. You’ve obviously also seen the reconstruction of Christchurch so we’re getting a lot of migrants coming in, some of whom live in Selwyn and are working in Christchurch.
A lot of dairy farm workers are coming to the rural areas of NZ. One of the biggest issues we find, of course, they engage in work so they form friendships but their families feel isolated. What does your council do to help those rural isolated families to integrate them into the community?
We give every new people coming to Selwyn an introduction pack which tells them where all the services are, where to go for help. But in terms of your comment there, one of the things we did notice was that while one of the husband or the wife might be working on the farm, the partner can be isolated in that rural area because its long distance to go to anywhere, not so many social contacts around. Thus we initiated a programme to encourage them to try and get the drivers license for instance so they could have that mobility to get out.
You were the first council that came up with a newcomers and migrants strategy. Can you tell us bit about that vision?
That comes back much to the comment you just suggested. Even migrants within NZ, so we call them newcomers and migrants because they both face similar problems when they come down from Auckland or somewhere else and establish in Rolleston or any of our other townships. They’ve left their networks behind, their family, their work colleagues, social contacts, sports clubs, whatever they were involved in, so they are also looking to re-establish themselves down here so it’s similar to migrants. Perhaps not so intensive but similar. So we have our newcomers and migrant strategy that’s evolved over the last few years, and it’s largely driven by the rapid growth we’ve seen in Selwyn over the last 5-6 years.
That strategy deals with rural isolation?
It’s part of it.
Lot of students tell us that they find difficulty in getting jobs. There’s underemployment. If they’re educated in accounts, they won’t be getting accountancy jobs, they’ll be working in Pak n Save or something. Does that strategy deal with this issue as well?
I’ll have to go back and look at the details there.
But do you see this as a problem?
Not particularly because I can think our NZ students face the same issue of finding jobs in the holidays, they’re competing with the overseas students and the overseas students are competing with them as well. But from my observation, and I’m not sure how well I’ve observed, I’d like to think the job opportunities are open to them equally.
Can you tell us a bit about the Cultural Fest you’re organising on the 150th Anniversary of Rolleston and the Council is supporting that?
That event is being run by, I think it’s the Lincoln Rotary Club, for many many years in Lincoln and this is as I mentioned before that Lincoln was sort of the hub and the start of our multiculturalism in Selwyn. So this year to mark the Rolleston 150th anniversary, they’re bringing it to Rolleston because while Lincoln may be the focus for the multicultural events and things, we’ve got to remember there are a lot of these new migrants in Rolleston and other areas of Selwyn as well. So bringing it to Rolleston allows it to then have more active participation from these migrants as well.
The diversity of Selwyn has drastically changed in the last 5 years or so. Isn't it?
Yes it has increased, but if I remember the figures, Europeans still dominate, and then it’s the Maori, then Pacifica, and then it’s the Asian group, and then there a whole lot of small ones. But you start to get down to 1-2% when you’re talking about those as you say. And that’s a lot more you know, percentages can be interesting, isn’t it. We’re a 100% more than we were and we’ve gone only half a percent or one percent.
As a Mayor do you think migrants are beneficial to the economy of Selwyn?
They certainly have been and that was because of the difficulty of getting people to work on the dairy farms and I don’t consider those low skilled jobs. There’s a level of skills there that’s required to manage stock, to manage farms. If you’re a herd manager or worker, you need to know what you’re doing. But I’d just say that it’s not the only place where we have migrants.
So in your view, migrants are important for your district’s economy to grow and develop even further.
Yes it is. There has been. But there’s a limit to how many jobs, isn’t it? And once those criteria are filled, depending on the skills you require, the government has a list of essential skills, and that’s telling us we don’t have enough for those people being educated or getting the experience in NZ. In all those areas, yes the migrants are very very valuable for NZ economy.
And particularly for your district? If we understand correctly, if there are jobs, if they have those required skills, migrants are more than welcome to come to Selwyn?
Of course! Very welcome.