Monday, May 1, 2023

Regional population trends in Victoria

The release of regional population estimates for 2022 has been highly anticipated. This is because it's the first post-2021 Census release of population data. It covers a 12 month period when the Australian border was reopened to overseas migration after COVID related lockdowns. The state of Victoria was hit hard by COVID, with significant shifts in migration patterns marking an end to a decade or more of strong growth. What are the key demographic trends in 2021-22? Read on to find out.

Victoria's population in 2022

At June 2022, the population of Victoria was 6.62 million. This was an increase of 71,820 over the previous year, representing a growth rate of 1.1%. This was slightly below the national average of 1.2%, but it was a strong contrast to 2020-21 when the population declined by -0.9%. Also noteworthy is that Victoria has regained the population that was lost during the height of the pandemic. The June 2022 figure of 6.62 million exceeds the previous peak of 6.61 million recorded in March 2020.

Population trends by LGA

The map below shows the rate of population change in each LGA across the state in 2021-22. Despite the disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic, some population trends remained largely unchanged. For instance, stronger population growth on Melbourne's metropolitan fringe has continued - albeit at lower levels. Melton recorded a growth rate of 6.4%, and this was the highest not just in Victoria, but in Australia (shared with Camden in NSW). Wyndham (4.2%) and the City of Melbourne (4.0%) also recorded strong growth. Melton and Wyndham have been growing strongly for many years, as there is a significant amount of residential land under development. 

In contrast, the City of Melbourne rebounded from the sharp 10% decline recorded in 2020-21, and the 4.0% growth rate resulted in a population of 159,810. This is still a long way short of the peak population of 170,810 recorded in 2020. The return of international students to the City is a key driver of this growth. It was replicated to a lesser degree in Monash, where the university of the same name is located. The LGA recorded a modest growth rate of 0.9% in 2021-22, compared to a decline of almost 4% the previous year.

There were still a number of LGAs in metropolitan Melbourne that recorded population decline in 2021-22. This was headed by Brimbank, which recorded a decline of -1.8%, or approximately 3,500 people. This was due to a strong net outflow of people to other parts of Australia. In general however, the LGAs that continued to record population decline did so at lower levels compared to 2020-21. More recent population data suggests that net overseas migration will top 400,000 in 2022-23, and this will continue to drive population growth across Melbourne. As a result it's likely that some of these LGAs will once again record an increase in population.

In regional Victoria the strongest growth rates were recorded in the peri-urban region beyond metropolitan Melbourne, as well as the larger regional centres. Mitchell Shire, located to the north of Melbourne, recorded a growth rate of 3.8%. Its population now exceeds 50,000 people. Further development of residential land in Beveridge, Wallan and other towns means that the strong growth will continue will into the future. Other regional LGAs to record strong growth include Baw Baw (2.8%), Bass Coast (2.7%) and Surf Coast (2.6%).

Another pre-COVID trend that remains largely unchanged is the continued population decline in more remote and rural LGAs. The stronger population growth recorded across regional Victoria during lockdowns was spatially uneven. Small rural LGAs in western Victoria, such as Yarriambiack (-1.2%), West Wimmera and Hindmarsh (both -1.0%), have been steadily declining in population for some time. The population of Yarriambiack has declined by 20% since 2002, and now stands at just 6,435. The fate of towns such as Rupanyup (pictured below) in light of challenging demographic trends and economic circumstances is uncertain.

The main street of Rupanyup, located in Yarriambiack Shire. Although these shopfronts are interesting to photograph, they are symbolic of the population decline occurring  in small country towns across western Victoria. Population gain in regional Victoria has bypassed these areas.

Concluding comments 

Although the COVID-19 related population decline in Victoria has turned around, the volume and percentage growth are still lower than the figures recorded throughout the 2010s. The key reason for this is that Victoria is still losing population to other parts of Australia, and the level of net overseas migration in 2021-22 only partially compensated for this. The level of natural increase has also declined, primarily due to more deaths. However more recent population data suggests that net interstate migration gain is declining. If net overseas migration does approach the 400,000 mark, the combination of these trends will impact population growth across Melbourne in particular. 

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