2012 APA Conference – some insights
The 2012 Australian Population Association Conference (APA) was held in Melbourne last week. This is the biennial conference held by Australia’s professional organisation for demographers, and the program showed a good mix of academia, government and even the private sector! The theme of the conference was population change – past, present and future. Of course .id was well represented (Richard, Esther, Nenad and Johnny) and Simone gave a presentation on our thoughts about population change in the lead up to the Census, and how that has borne out in reality, particularly with respect to how the data is informing our forecast assumptions. This link will take you to the conference website where you can view the full program. What were the conference highlights?
Population change in NSW
NSW State government demographers were well represented at the conference, and we heard from them on urban-rural migration trends in NSW, and international migration and regional growth in NSW. Given that internal migration is an important driver of population change – not just in NSW – but across Australia, their analysis was very pertinent. I was impressed that they’ve had the time to analyse 2011 migration data since it’s release in late October! The point was made that mobility appears to have declined, particularly the number of people leaving Sydney. This is in spite of the fact that the NSW government provides financial incentives to people moving to a regional area. It also provides a potential answer as to the apparent slow down in coastal growth in NSW.
Fran Rolley from the University of New England presented findings from her research on rural youth migration in Australia. What is critical about this research is that it explored the reasons WHY people move – a rare insight. Census data tells us how many people move, but the why part is very much inferred. Looking at a sample of Year 10 students in two areas in northern NSW, the reasons for moving confirm some of the long held assumptions, including job opportunities, education and lifestyle.
Population and weather forecasting
Is there a link between weather forecasting, and population forecasting? Alison Taylor, the ACT demographer, likes to think so. She listed a number of parallels between the two, such as the complexity, the uncertainty and the importance of language. She also talked about the importance of communication in terms of forecasts – the language we use and interestingly, the use of symbols. Everyone is aware of how a weather forecast map uses icons such as a sun or a cloud, can we as forecasters employ the same technique? Can we take a term such as the “cone of uncertainty”, which is normally associated with hurricane forecasting, and apply it to population forecasting? What do .id forecast users think?
Another way of measuring Indigenous populations
Though not directly applicable to our work, John Taylor’s presentation on measuring Indigenous populations was very interesting. Basically this considered the Indigenous ERP and how accurate it was. The Indigenous population in Broome, WA, declined between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, which intuitively doesn’t really make sense even to this demographer sitting at her desk on the other side of the country. In response to this, an “alternative Census” was undertaken, using measures that were considered more relevant to the local Indigenous community (Yawuru) rather than looking at a count through a “government statistical lens”. The count obtained was far higher than the ERP and is considered by the locals to be more accurate and the methodology employed should be useful in providing more accurate population and households counts of the Indigenous population.
Towards a theory of depopulation
Natalie Jackson from the University of Waikato gave a very interesting presentation on regional population growth in New Zealand. Like many parts of Australia, population decline in rural communities is a long established trend and is the result of many factors including reduced requirement for farm labour and importantly, the outmigration of youth. This process tends to accelerate the ageing process in rural areas and even more so in areas where there is substantial retirement migration. The “inconvenient truth” about population growth in the older age groups is that it produces an age structure that is not conducive to growth resulting from natural increase, and in fact many of these rural areas are characterised by natural decrease – a point I made in a recent blog.
A national conversation on population?
Graeme Hugo is one of Australia’s leading demographic experts and he talked about the need for a national conversation on population. He suggested that any discussion, conversation etc has become a debate because it is hijacked by interest groups each with their own agenda. This tends to cloud issues and that the real evidence gets lost in translation, and in terms of policy, the issues are lost and not understood. A case in point is that on a national level, many policy makers still see population growth as consisting of young families, but most growth is in older age groups. The nature of population change and the subtle ways it can exert itself means that it doesn’t become political until the issue creeps up on them. One of his final points was that as a profession, we need to better communicate population trends and implications of change – something that I cannot agree with more!
We don’t often get the chance to interact with our public sector and academic counterparts, and it was great to see that on the whole our insights on population growth are very similar. And as an added bonus, we all learnt something new or have an idea on a new approach. We look forward to the next conference in 2014.
For those who are interested, Simone’s presentation is attached here.
Did you attend the APA Conference? What did you take away from it? Feel free to leave a comment.
Access more information about the Australian Census 2011.
Access the new profile.id sites and other population statistics for Australia, States, Capital Cities, Local Government Areas and suburbs at .id’s demographic resource centre.