Exodus from Sydney and Melbourne accelerates in late 2020

Exodus from Sydney and Melbourne accelerates in late 2020

In this latest blog in our series on new migration data, Glenn explores the figures from the December 2020 quarter and discusses the emerging trends for people moving around Australia.

The ABS now release broad-level (Capital Cities and States) internal migration estimates on a quarterly basis. This provides a fascinating insight into the effects of the pandemic and fundamental demographic change on where people are living. The latest figures are now out for December quarter 2020. Despite the fact that lockdowns, even in Victoria, were easing during this quarter and life was getting back to “normal”, the trend of net movement out of our biggest cities which we saw in the previous two quarters actually accelerated in this time period.

Interstate migration

At a state level we can see that the trend is very much movement out of the two most populous states, NSW and Vic, into other states, particularly Queensland.

Quarterly net migration (arrivals-departures) by state, December Quarter 2020 (comparisons to previous quarter and year)

State December 2019 quarter September 2020 quarter December 2020 quarter
NSW -6,783 -4,110 -5,268
Vic. 2,665 -3,749 -6,536
Qld 6,860 7,237 +9,763
SA -1,055 77 +134
WA -1,013 631 +1,205
Tas. 390 180 +299
NT -1,113 -131 -296
ACT 49 -135 +699

NSW net migration out is actually a little less than it was in December 2019 (the last quarter not affected by a pandemic). But Victoria has gone in year from a net gain to a net loss. A turnaround of 9,000 people per quarter, in a year. Queensland is the main beneficiary of this population, with a net gain of almost 10,000 people in a quarter; if annualised, that’s almost 40,000 per year. Queensland has had positive interstate migration for a long time, but it has not seen this level of net interstate migration since the early 1990s.

The smaller states have also turned around migration numbers. WA and SA have gone from strongly negative to positive in the space of a year. WA’s interstate migration is almost back to mining-boom levels. The ACT is now seeing net in-migration as well.

Capital Cities

The headline from this release is generally movement out of our capital cities and into regional areas. But you can see from the table below, this is pretty much all a Melbourne and Sydney trend. Brisbane and Perth show a strong net movementt in, while Adelaide and Hobart are very even, with net migration close to zero.

Quarterly net migration (arrivals-departures) by capital city region, September Quarter 2020 with comparisons to previous quarter and year.

Greater Capital City December 2019 quarter September 2020 quarter December 2020 quarter
Sydney -8,032 -7,782 -9,317
Melbourne 361 -7,445 -8,491
Brisbane 4,736 3,215 +4,770
Adelaide -799 -334 -247
Perth 464 1,388 +1,794
Hobart -105 -162 -92
Darwin -521 8 +259
Canberra 49 -135 +699
Total -3,847 -11,247 -10,625


The Sydney and Melbourne differences are profound. Greater Sydney has been a first port of call for migrants for many years and tended to lose population to regional areas and interstate in the long-term. It has accelerated since the last quarter and the last year, but it’s gone in a year from about 8,000 per quarter to 9,000 per quarter. This is a net loss of 36,000 per annum annualised which is really significant particularly when we know there is no overseas migration to speak of at the moment.

But the change in Melbourne is stark. Melbourne has gone from a net attractor of people just a year ago, to a net loss which has increased each quarter, now running at about 33,000 p.a.

Focus on Regional Victoria

About half of this movement out of Melbourne is into Regional Victoria, representing the sea-/tree-changers and perhaps buoyed people who are able to work from home. Net movement from Greater Melbourne to Regional Victoria is about 4,200 people in the December 2020 quarter, which is similar to the previous two quarters, and up from about 2,700 in December 2019. It’s a significant trend, but compared to more than 5 million people who live in Melbourne, it’s relatively small. Half of Melbourne’s losses were interstate.

While Regional Victoria did gain population from Melbourne for the quarter, it also tended to lose population to other states (as did Melbourne), so the overall net migration into regional Victoria is well down from what it was in the September quarter, and similar to the December quarter in 2019. This is mainly due to more people leaving Regional Victoria in the December quarter. Perhaps the lifting of lockdowns meant people felt ready to move again.

Arrivals, Departures and net movement to Regional Victoria (Vic. ex. Melbourne) in December quarter 2020.

Greater Capital City area Arrivals Departures Net movement to Regional Vic
Greater Sydney 494 502 -8
Rest of NSW 1,636 1,914 -278
Greater Melbourne 10,798 6,555 +4,243
Greater Brisbane 506 931 -425
Rest of Qld 789 1,652 -863
Greater Adelaide 339 538 -199
Rest of SA 219 337 -118
Greater Perth 264 391 -127
Rest of WA 150 183 -33
Greater Hobart 106 91 +15
Rest of Tas. 136 250 -114
Greater Darwin 184 279 -95
Rest of NT 74 91 -17
Australian Capital Territory 199 225 -26
Total Regional Victoria 15,894 13,939 +1,955

You can see from this table that Greater Melbourne is really the only positive movement to Regional Vic, while the drain to Queensland is quite strong.

Focus on Regional Queensland

Regional Queensland is the great attractor in 2020. While there is considerable movement into Brisbane as well, it’s the rest of Queensland that has the largest in-movement of any broad region. This chart shows that they are coming from all over Australia. There is a modest net loss into Greater Brisbane – the attraction of the big city to young people remains. But strong movement from everywhere else, and particularly Sydney, regional NSW and Melbourne into Regional Qld.

Arrivals, Departures and net movement to Regional Queensland (ex. Greater Brisbane) in December quarter 2020.

Greater Capital City area Arrivals Departures Net movement to Regional Qld
Greater Sydney 3,487 1,865 +1,622
Rest of NSW 4,646 3,382 +1,264
Greater Melbourne 3,387 1,622 +1,765
Rest of Vic. 1,652 789 +863
Greater Brisbane 11,384 12,161 -777
Greater Adelaide 634 519 +115
Rest of SA 208 206 +2
Greater Perth 752 926 -174
Rest of WA 403 354 +49
Greater Hobart 312 228 +84
Rest of Tas. 358 423 -65
Greater Darwin 560 520 +40
Rest of NT 279 191 +88
Australian Capital Territory 571 454 +117
Total Regional Queensland 28,633 23,640 +4,993

Note that the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are a part of Regional Queensland, so much of this population movement is likely to be into South East Queensland, if not the Greater Brisbane area itself. The quarterly estimates don’t differentiate between smaller areas, but we do now have migration numbers annually up to June 2020 on the Community Profile ( site for our Local Government partners. Keep your eye out for an upcoming post showing how to use that page to tell a local migration story.

The 2021 Census is coming, and will provide us with a much more localised view of population movement. Don’t forget Census day, August 10th! The data will be released from mid-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).

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