Why it’s Unrealistic To Compare Ourselves With Aust And NZ
This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say on 4 the Record on FBC TV last night.
Some commentators have criticised our living standards by comparing them with standards of other countries like New Zealand and Australia.
As one who has lived in both countries, we cannot really compare us with them.
Australia and New Zealand are much larger economies. Their size and population are bigger.
In the 2013 census 1,415,550 persons were registered as living in the Auckland region alone. That means all of us here in Fiji can fit into Auckland. The current population of New Zealand is 4.5 million.
In 2015, the estimated population of Sydney was 4.92 million people. In Sydney we can all slot into one corner of the city. The current population of Australia is estimated at 24.5 million. Fiji’s population is over 800,000.
I have quoted these figures to give us an idea of the facts before we leap into making statements that are unrealistic and give people false ideas and hopes.
The issue that is often quoted is the cost of living, pay rate or salary scale, jobs/unemployment, development and infrastructure.
Let’s try and compare how big we are. According to Wikipedia, Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of about 18,300 square kilometres.
Australia is the sixth largest country after Russia, Canada, China, the USA, and Brazil. Australia Geoscience says at 7,692, 024 km2, it accounts for just five per cent of the world’s land area of 149. 450, 000 km2, and although it is the smallest continental land mass, it is the world’s largest island.
New Zealand’s total land area is 268,000 square kilometres.
Land means natural resources, minerals and mining, forests (logging, timber agriculture, business, economic activities etc. They contribute to and determine the size of the economy. The bigger the population the bigger the spending. It stimulates business and economic activities. These translate to jobs and of course boost household incomes. The size of the National Budget reflects the size of the economy.
The Australian Federal Government has a Budget revenue estimate of $416.9 billion, estimate expenditure of $450.6 billion and deficit of $33.7 billion for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Compare that with Fiji and the figures tell the story. Fiji has an estimate revenue of $3.1 billion, an estimate expenditure of $3.6 billion and a deficit of $468 million for the same period.
New Zealand has a revenue estimate of $78.5 billion, expenditure of $77.4 billion and surplus of $1.1 billion.
We can learn from the New Zealand and Australian experience but we cannot, for example, afford to adopt the same pay/salary scale. It is simply unaffordable and unrealistic.
Everything is relative and we need to understand this when we are making comparisons.
Public service reforms currently underway are likely to improve the conditions and pay of civil servants. But we cannot expect the improvement to bring the salary level up to the same up as the NZ or Australian level.
The disparity between the Fijian and Australian or New Zealand pay scale will always exist. This is the reality of the situation.
For us the key is prudent management of our financial resources and better utilisation of our natural resources, land, forests, minerals and fisheries. Revenue collection by the Fiji Revenue Customs Authority has significantly improved. It has enabled the Government to expand its services to the people. That includes the building of infrastructure like roads and bridges etc. It also enabled the Government to give our doctors big pay increases, something that has been long overdue. Early childhood teachers also received a pay increase.
Let us not be misled by some politicians who say things that sound good but cannot be reached or achieved because of the reasons that I have outlined earlier. Labour mobility is a fact of life. People will look for greener pastures, even go overseas. Then there are those who stay because they love it here. An increasing number of Fijians have returned home because they miss the unique quality of life here. It boils down to individual choices. For those of us who permanently stay here, an understanding of how the economy works, will give us that peace of mind, when the going get’s tough.