Who are the winners and losers in the interstate migration game?
Just before Christmas the ABS released its quarterly demographic publication, Australian Demographic Statistics (Cat.no. 3101.0). The release of this data brings Australia’s demographic story right up to June 2015, and as usual provides some insights into contemporary trends. Glenn has already written a blog outlining the key points, so this one will take a closer look at interstate migration (movement between the States and Territories) – a key component of population change in Australia. What’s interesting about interstate migration is that some long held preconceptions are being challenged by more recent trends – it’s always been a volatile component of population change, but read on to find out more.
Net interstate migration is the difference between arrivals and departures. Australians have a high level of personal mobility and this is a consistent finding in the relevant data produced by the ABS. For example, Census data shows that around 40% of Australians moved residence between 2006 and 2011. The ABS produces data on interstate migration going back to the 1970s and this is a key component for estimating the resident population of each State and Territory (not to mention smaller areas of geography) ie the Estimated Resident Population (ERP). These estimates are based on other data sources such as Medicare enrolments. Net interstate migration over the period 1982-2015 (year ended June) is shown in the graph below. What stands out is the gains made by Queensland are almost mirrored by the losses recorded in NSW and Victoria combined – with a bit of Western Australia thrown in for good measure in the last few years. Another point of interest is the apparent “convergence” of the overall numbers in the last five years or so – the large interstate gains or losses appear to be more characteristic of the medium to distant past.
In 2015, the only States that gained population were Victoria (10,190) and Queensland (6,417). That Victoria gains the most interstate migrants in net terms is quite a turnaround from the 1980s and 1990s in particular. In the mid 1990s, Victoria recorded net interstate migration losses to Queensland and NSW in particular. This was at the peak of the early 1990s recession when the economy was very weak, and then there was the so-called “Kennett factor”. Between 1993 and 1995, net interstate migration loss was more than 20,000 persons, but over the late 1990s this decreased gradually, and the State recorded small net gains between 1999 and 2002. Since 2009, Victoria has recorded net interstate migration gain and this is a key contributor to the higher rates of population growth in the last few years.
Traditionally, Queensland has gained population from other States and Territories – between 1982 and 2015 there was a net interstate migration gain recorded each year. Historically, Queensland’s population growth has been driven by interstate migration, particularly arrivals from NSW and Victoria. However, the trend is volatile. In the mid 1990s the net gain was more than 40,000 persons per annum, and it was generally above 20,000 persons per annum between 1988 and 2007. But since 2003 net interstate migration has declined markedly. Queensland now receives far more net overseas migrants than it does from interstate. In 2011, Western Australia took over Queensland’s traditional mantle of the leader in the interstate migration game – though this was shortlived. In 2014, WA had slipped back but Victoria moved ahead of Queensland in terms of net interstate migration gain – ironic given that so much of the movement out of Victoria in the 1990s was to Queensland. This is a great example of how long held notions about Australia’s population are changing – in 2015 new residents in Queensland are more likely to be former New Zealanders than former Victorians.
NSW also has a history of losing population to other States through interstate migration, but since 2003 these losses have declined – almost mirroring the decline in the gains made by Queensland. Could there be a link here? Has NSW ever recorded a net gain through interstate migration? The answer is yes – in 1979 there was a gain of around 1,500 according the ABS historical demographic series. Sydney’s population growth fortunes have improved in the last couple of years, and while much of this is driven by migration from overseas, lower interstate migration also plays a role.
Western Australia is another State where the interstate migration trend has changed considerably, but this State’s demographic trends have a strong link to the resource economy. It’s only three years ago that WA was recording very high rates of population growth, driven by large increases not only in interstate migration, but also overseas migration. Of course this was at the peak of the mining boom, when demand for labour was very high. You could barely move around at Perth airport for all the mine workers heading north. In 2012, WA recorded a net interstate migration gain of more than 11,400 persons, but this has declined since and in 2015 the State recorded a loss of almost 2,000 persons – the first loss since 2003.
The other States and Territories record much smaller interstate migration gains or losses, but some trends can be discerned. South Australia is another State that traditionally loses population interstate. There have only been two occassions since the early 1980s when the State recorded a gain (1984 and 1991), though the numbers were not large. In common with Victoria, South Australia recorded large net interstate migration losses in the mid 1990s, when the economy was relatively weak, but unlike Victoria, there has not been any gain since. Interstate migration in the ACT is quite volatile and has a strong relationship with the fortunes of the Commonwealth public sector. For example, the ACT gained population through interstate migration in the 1980s and early 1990s, but there was a relativley large loss in 1997 and 1998 when there was a restructuring of the public sector following the election of the Howard government. Similarly, there was generally a gain in the Rudd/Gillard years, and the ACT has recorded net interstate migration loss since 2013 ie the Abbott/Turnbull years.
Certainly the trends in interstate migration have shown substantial change in the last 33 years, and more recent trends have shown that the traditional winners and losers in the interstate migration game have changed. If anything, it highlights the volatility of migration and how these responds to economic conditions in particular. Migration is always the trickiest component of population to forecast because of this. Back in the 1990s, when Victoria was losing substantial numbers of people to Queensland, who would have thought it would now be the State that gains the most population through interstate migration? The data also shows the importance of the evidence base and how it can challenge preconceived notions of how populations grow and change.