Australia’s population growth almost zero

Australia’s population growth almost zero

The ABS have now released a full 12 months of COVID-affected population-growth data. Victoria’s population is declining sharply, Queensland is booming. Glenn provides a state-by-state analysis of the contributing factors.

The ABS have just released the quarterly population update for states and territories, covering the reference period to 31 March 2021. We usually make a big deal about the population updates for the financial year end (June 30), but this third quarter update is especially important because it represents the first full year of COVID-affected population growth.

And affected it certainly was! Australia’s population has virtually stalled, standing at 25,704,340 on March 31, 2021. This was an increase of just 35,700 (0.14%) in the year – the lowest growth since our population declined in 1916, due to World War I. However, the last quarterly growth picked up a little: 21,000 (2/3rds) of the calendar year’s increase was in the March quarter.

In terms of “natural increase”, births outweighed deaths by 131,000 – but this was offset by substantially more people leaving to go oversears than coming in to Australia. Net Overseas Migration (NOM) was -95,300 for the 12 months ending March 2021. NOM is historically positive, and a major driver of Autralia’s population growth. We’ve had a NOM of 200,000-300,000 p.a. for many years until COVID hit.

Population growth by state

State/Territory Population March 2021 Annual change Annual change % Quarterly change March 2021 Quarterly natural increase Quarterly overseas migration Quarterly interstate migration
New South Wales 8,176,368 +11,729 0.14% +7,254 +11,860 -143 -4,463
Victoria 6,648,564 -42,854 -0.64% -8,578 +6,893 -10,607 -4,864
Queensland 5,206,400 +43,933 0.85% +13,131 +8,283 -2,187 +7,035
South Australia 1,771,703 +2,674 0.15% +1,394 +1,619 -873 +648
Western Australia 2,675,797 +15,245 0.57% +5,801 +4,859 -697 +1,639
Tasmania 541,965 +2,091 0.39% +756 +392 +87 +277
Northern Territory 247,023 +1,170 0.48% +570 +750 +230 -410
ACT 431,826 +1,667 0.39% +636 +1,010 -512 +138
Australia 25,704,340 +35,684 0.14% +20,968 +35,663 -14,695 0

Victoria's population decline continues

Victoria's population continues to decline substantially, down 0.6% in a year, or almost 43,000 people. For the previous 6 years, Victoria had been the fastest growing state in Australia. This is the largest absolute population decline Victoria has ever had in a year. As a percentage, it ranks 3rd, behind 1916 and 1915. Most of this decline is due to negative NOM (-53,000) but also strong interstate migration loss (-18,000). The decline is slowing a bit after being very heavily negative the previous two quarters.

New South Wales benefits from overseas arrivals

New South Wales continues to eek out small population increases. This is mainly due to the fact that they are still getting a substantial amount of overseas arrivals – probably due to taking the largest share of returned travellers in quarantine during this period. NSW NOM was still negative (more people left) but only barely. Interstate migration remains strongly negative, but this is not a new trend for NSW, it has long been the case pre-COVID.

Queensland just keeps growing

The total population growth for Queensland over the 12 months is 0.9%. This is low compared to the 2–3% p.a. being recorded for most of the last two decades, but the Sunshine State continues to account for more than 100% of the national population growth (44,000 in a year). Take out Queensland and Australia's population is declining. NOM there is negative, but they make up for it with high interstate migration – again not a new trend. It's a bit higher than it was a year ago, with few more coming in and less leaving the state, but it doesn't stand out in a historical perspective – Queensland has typically gained from other states, only in the absence of growth in the other states does it appear very large.

Western Australia's mining economy helps growth

Western Australia is also growing strongly. The state with the toughest border controls still managed to attract more Net Interstate Migrants for the last quarter than any quarter since 2012. The return of the boom times for mining meant more people come in and less leaving, offsetting the loss of the overseas migrants and adding to natural increase there, for a 0.6% growth rate, 2nd highest in the nation.

South Australia grows from interstate migration

South Australia is also gaining from interstate migration. The numbers are much lower than WA or Qld, but SA traditionally loses substantial population interstate. This has completely turned around; the +648 in the last quarter (+963 for the year) is the highest interstate migration SA has recorded since 1991, and second-highest since 1975, when the state took in the refugees from Cyclone Tracy. This also means that although growth has slowed, SA is now growing faster than the Australian average (by 0.01%)!

NT and Tasmania record positive overseas migration

The Northern Territory and Tasmania were the only two jurisdictions to record positive NOM for the quarter, albeit measured in the tens or hundreds in each case. NT is losing population interstate, while Tasmania continues to gain in small numbers. Tasmania, having had very low population growth for so long, is now continuing to add population while others decline, and has a growth rate 3 times the national average, at 0.4% for the year.

The undeniable impact of COVID

One thing which is clear from these figures, is that the "COVID Zero" states which have not been heavily affected by the virus and associated lockdowns, are growing, while the most affected states are declining or stable in population. There is a clear movement out of NSW and Victoria into Queensland and WA, while SA has turned the tables from losing population interstate, to a slight gain.

Of course the quarter ended March 2021 was the most open and COVID-free that Australia has been since the start of the pandemic (also extending through April 2021). The extended lockdowns in NSW and Vic, as well as outbreaks in other states occurred primarily from June 2021 onwards, so it will be interesting to see if this accelerates the population trends we're seeing, with the full financial year numbers and beyond, which are expected from December 2021.

There is no local-area data in this update – it's state-based only. The next local population update, which we will include in our Local Government community profiles, is due March 2021. The Census, which has almost completed its collection phase, will also shed some light on this – these figures are all subject to revision after we get new data from the Census expected around June 2022.

Glenn - The Census Expert

Glenn is our resident Census expert. After ten years working at the ABS, Glenn's deep knowledge of the Census has been a crucial input in the development of our community profiles. These tools help everyday people uncover the rich and important stories about our communities that are often hidden deep in the Census data. Glenn is also our most prolific blogger - if you're reading this, you've just finished reading one of his blogs. Take a quick look at the front page of our blog and you'll no doubt find more of Glenn's latest work. As a client manager, Glenn travels the country giving sought-after briefings to councils and communities (these are also great opportunities for Glenn to tend to his rankings in Geolocation games such as Munzee and Geocaching).

Leave a Reply