Cracker by Damian Christie

Welcome to NZ, Population 4,000,000

At 5.30pm today, as far as best guesstimates will allow, New Zealand's population hits four million. OK sure, it's just a statistical thing, but it marks a suitable time for reflection. It's like taking stock of your life when you turn 30, or pulling over and having a wee chat with your car when she goes round the clock, but on a national scale.

I personally think it's a bit of a shame that very little is being done to celebrate this landmark event. I can't blame Statistics New Zealand, they're not exactly known for their ability to organise a good shindig. Come to think of it, we should be praising our Department of Counting Things, as long as I can remember - which these days is a good three to four weeks - it's never had an underpants scandal, no widescreen digital TVs have turned up in the staff room, the CEO's daughter never got caught doing E deals out of the back of the company car. Rodney Hide's bold claims in early October 2002 that the Lower Hutt office's petty cash was out by 20 cents was later found to be due to a price rise in two litres of blue-top milk not being properly accounted for. The accounts lady was fired, and the embarrassing situation was never spoken of again.

Even so, if you're going to dust the cobwebs off the half a bottle of Ouzo sitting at the back of the Chief Statisticians' liquor cabinet (now mostly used to hold the company's supply of staples, from No. 10-1 M on the left to 23/24 H on the right) you'd think reaching the big four-point-oh would be a good excuse. Particularly so, given that under current projections, we're probably not going to get to five million, and almost certainly not within any of our lifetimes.

I find this situation odd at best. When I first became aware of the concept of "populations", which was roughly the same time as I started social studies at primary school, New Zealand sat around 3.3 million. To be honest, once I'd learnt that fact I tucked it away and never thought about it again until last week. If you'd asked me two weeks' ago what our population was, I would have said 3.3 million. Luckily for me, Statistics NZ is on top of its game. But I guess I always knew that the population was increasing. For years we've been told of exploding worldwide populations, overcrowding, famine, the need to find other planets to inhabit once we run out of room here.

Perhaps all this scaremongering has had an impact. Certainly we've stopped procreating with the fervour we once did; in the past 30 years our birthrate has dropped to half what it was. Despite what Peters et all might lead us to believe/fear, immigration is not a great contributor to our population growth spurt, it is 'natural' increases both in terms of higher birth rates and increased longevity that has the greatest impact in this area. Ironically it is our baby boomers, who were responsible (or at least their parents were) for our quick rise in population during the 40s and 50s, will cause our population to stagnate, as they begin to drop off in disproportionately high numbers. Statistics NZ pick our population to eventually peak at 4.81 million in 2046.

So there isn't going to be a 5 million people party, at least not while we're alive, and definitely not anytime soon. Even more excuse for us all to celebrate a bit today, and certainly for Her Majesty's faithful servants at the Department of Statistics to let their hair down, drop their grey suit pants, photocopy their arses, write rude words on their calculators and generally let rip in an office party of Bacchanal proportions, Rodney Hide be damned.