Migration drives Australia’s record 2022–23 population growth

Migration drives Australia’s record 2022–23 population growth

The latest population growth figures from the ABS completes the financial year picture for 2022–23, showing record population growth. Strong overseas migration remains the key driver for the nation, with different stories emerging across the states and territories. Demographer Glenn Capuano digs in to the details.

As always, just before Christmas, the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases new population growth figures for Australia, States and Territories. These are quarterly figures, but the December release for the period ending June 30th each year is the most important as it aligns with the local numbers which come out later in March, and represents the full financial year.

These figures for the year ended June 30th, 2023, show that Australia’s population stood at 26,638,544 – an increase of 624,145 (2.4%) since 2022. In just two years, the nation has gone from the slowest population growth in more than 100 years to one of the fastest, adding more people than ever before! (As a percentage the nation has grown faster off a smaller population base at other times.)

Overseas migration much higher than pre-COVID figures

The main driver of this very high population growth remains overseas migration. During the COVID-19 restrictions, particularly the 2020–21 year, Net Overseas Migration (NOM) was negative, as our borders were closed and we had hotel quarantine for a small number of returning residents only. Fast forward two years and, with the borders open, there is a very high migration intake. Net Overseas Migration for the 12 months to June 2023 was +518,100. This is more than 100,000 higher than the previous record set in 2009. For many years, NOM was around +150,000–200,000 p.a. Since 2006 it has been high, averaging between 200,000 and 250,000 p.a. So the current figure is close to double the average over the 10 years pre-COVID.

There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about this being unsustainable and the government has some plans to cut the migration intake going forward. That’s only half the story of course, because Net Overseas Migration is also high at the moment due to fewer people leaving the country. The government of the day has less control over the out-migration component. It’s also worth noting that 75% of migrants arriving in this period were on temporary visas.

Population change across states and territories

This table shows population change at a state/territory level for the year ended June 2023.

State/Territory ERP June 2023 Change over previous year % change over previous year Natural Increase Net Overseas migration Net interstate migration
NSW 8,339,347 172,643 2.11% 32,599 174,202 -34,158
Vic 6,812,477 181,846 2.74% 29,453 154,256 -1,863
Qld 5,459,413 138,472 2.60% 22,222 83,995 32,255
SA 1,851,704 30,489 1.67% 3,043 27,855 -409
WA 2,878,563 86,769 3.11% 13,548 61,591 11,630
Tas 572,780 1,729 0.30% 294 4,032 -2,597
NT 252,473 2,245 0.90% 2,177 3,335 -3,267
ACT 466,813 9,898 2.17% 2,701 8,788 -1,591
Australia 26,638,544 624,145 2.40% 106,058 518,087  

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (June 2023), National, state and territory population

The high level of overseas migration is affecting every state and territory. The largest share by far is among the two largest states, NSW and Vic, which get around two thirds of that migration between them. Just two years ago, in the 2020–21 year, Net Overseas Migration was negative for these two states, leading to low population growth and even decline for Victoria. Now Victoria is back to being the second-fastest growing among all the states and territories, with the return of international students driving a lot of that. And there is a new frontrunner at the state level, with Western Australia’s 3.1% population growth eclipsing Queensland as the fastest growing state or territory for the year.

The other trend at a state level is Net Interstate Migration. This is typically negative for NSW, positive for Queensland and oscillates for other states. This year is no exception, but the very high interstate migration experienced by Queensland in recent years has come back a bit closer to normal (which is still highly positive, at more than 32,000 for the year). South Australia and Tasmania both had strongly positive interstate migration during the pandemic, but this has tapered back to close to zero for SA, and well into the negative for Tasmania.

All states and territories have positive natural increase. This indicates that, in the short term, our population in most areas would keep growing in the absence of migration, contrary to popular belief. However for Tasmania, as the oldest state, it’s close to zero, with deaths nearly balancing births. Australia-wide, it’s true that our birth rate is relatively low, but so is our death rate (see my recent blog on life expectancy). And it would be several decades at current birth rates with no migration before the population aged enough to drop our natural increase to negative.

More to come

These figures for state and territories will appear in .id’s community and economic profiles, but not until we have local datasets to compare with them. These are due out with the publication “Regional Population Growth” (or 3218.0 for those of us old hacks who still use ABS catalogue numbers). This eagerly awaited release around the end of March 2024 will give the full 2022–3 year update for Local Government Areas and smaller areas within them, and will be loaded on to as soon as possible after release, with the national and state comparisons as benchmarks.

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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