Monday, January 7, 2019

Australia's population growth has slowed

Just before Christmas the ABS released its quarterly demographic publication - Australian Demographic Statistics.  This latest release provides data on population growth and change for Australia's states and territories up to June 2018.  Population, and especially migration, was a hot topic in 2018, but what do the latest numbers tell us?  Read on to find out more.

Australia's population

At June 2018, the population of Australia was 24,992,369.  This was an increase of 1.6% over the previous twelve months, and represented growth of more than 390,000.  Natural increase accounted for 39% of this growth, and net overseas migration the remaining 61%.

These figures for 2017-18 are slightly lower than those for 2016-17, when the volume of growth was almost 411,000, representing a growth rate of 1.7%.  The reason for this was a decline in net overseas migration, resulting from fewer arrivals and an increase in departures.  The decline in net overseas migration was strongest in the three largest states, and particularly so in NSW.  In 2016-17, net overseas migration was 100,500, decreasing to 88,840 in 2017-18.  

Migration is the most volatile component of population change, and these figures show how quickly things can change from one year to the next.  Overall however, net overseas migration to Australia is high by historic standards.  The chart below shows the change in natural increase and net overseas migration between 1981-82 and 2017-18.

Australia components of population change

Victoria is the fastest growing state, but....

Victoria continues to be the fastest growing state in Australia, with a growth rate of 2.2% recorded in 2017-18.  This represents a volume of 138,200 people.  However, the rate and volume were lower than the previous two years.  In fact, the growth rate of the ACT was also 2.2% in 2017-18.  It's only when you increase the number of decimal points that Victoria is shown to be slightly higher (2.19% vs 2.15%).  Victoria's growth rate has declined due to reduce volumes of migration from both overseas and interstate.

2015-16 remains the year with the highest volume of growth recorded in Victoria (150,850), representing a growth rate of 2.5%.  

Northern Territory records population loss

In an era where record levels of overseas migration are blamed for all sorts of urban problems in Sydney and Melbourne, it's easy to forget that other parts of Australia are not growing strongly.  In fact, the Northern Territory (NT) recorded a decline in population in 2017-18, the first time since 2002-03.  The loss was small, just 236 persons or -0.1%, and was primarily a result of high levels of net interstate migration loss.  As shown here, the NT has been losing population interstate since 2010.  The loss has gained momentum in the last few years and amounted to 3,831 persons in 2017-18.  

In addition, the volume of net overseas migration in the NT in 2017-18 (just 800 persons) was less than half that of 2016-17.  This was the lowest volume since 2003-04.  However net overseas migration in the NT has been extremely volatile in the 21st century, making it difficult to discern long term trends.

Growth is deceptively strong in NSW

NSW recorded growth of 119,330 in 2017-18, representing a growth rate of 1.5% which is just below the Australian figure.  Despite the tone in this article, it would be wrong to assume it's all doom and gloom.  The volume of growth has exceeded 100,000 persons since 2013-14, and reached a peak of 135,080 in 2016-17.  In fact, the 119,330 was the second highest volume on record.

A characteristic of population change in NSW is net interstate migration loss, a persistent pattern since the early 1980s.  In 2013-14 and again in 2014-15, the magnitude of the loss was around 6,700 each year.  This was actually the smallest loss in the last 36 years.  The increasing loss of people interstate since 2014-15, reaching 21,670 in 2017-18, may simply represent a return to historic trends.  


Population growth in Australia remains strong, but was slightly lower in 2017-18 compared with the previous year.  At June 2018, the population was 24,992,300 and the growth rate was 1.6%.  Victoria and the ACT were the strongest growing states/territories in 2017-18, with Victoria just pipping the ACT with a growth rate of 2.19%.  The NT recorded a minor loss of population, primarily due to increasing volumes of net interstate migration loss.  Despite a growth rate on par with that of Australia's, population growth in NSW is still strong, with the second highest volume of growth ever recorded.

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