Regional population trends in Australia

Peter Hicks, Economics Section and Guy Woods, Statistics and Mapping Section

Introduction

One aspect of the current public discussion about sustainable population is spatial distribution. Australia’s larger capital cities are often said to be ‘full’ yet continue to account for the vast bulk of population growth. Leaders of many small rural and remote communities clamour for new residents. This is in sharp contrast with some ‘boom’ regions which have experienced such a population surge that local housing stock, services and infrastructure are under extreme pressure.

Based on ABS data, this brief provides a snapshot of the current dispersal of Australia’s population by state and recent state level trends. It also highlights the diversity of population developments in Australia over recent years focusing on those regions experiencing the greatest levels and rates of population change. This analysis shows there is not necessarily a correlation between the amount by which a particular area’s population changes and the rate at which that change occurs.

Growth and decline around the states

The major recent trends at the state/territory level are summarised in Table 1. Features include:

  • growth rates have varied considerably both geographically and over time, and
  • Queensland (Qld) has recorded the largest population increase with well over half a million extra people while Western Australia (WA) has experienced the fastest growth rate.

In addition, the concentration of Australia’s population in the capital cities is currently projected to increase from 64 per cent in 2007 to 65 per cent in 2026 and then 68 per cent in 2056.

What’s happening where?

The national and state trends reported in Table 1 mask considerable variation within state borders. Some insight into local level trends is provided in Tables 2 and 3 which identify the ten areas experiencing the largest population increases and decreases respectively. Of the ten areas recording the largest increases in population:

  • five are in Victoria and four are in WA, and
  • their average population in 2009 was 70 000.

Of the ten areas recording the largest declines in population:

  • five are in western New South Wales
  • none had a population loss over the five year period of more than 800, and
  • at June 2009 their populations ranged between 3000 and 31 000.

Other data show that the ten most rapidly growing areas between 2004 and 2009 recorded average annual growth rates of between 85 and 17 per cent. However five of these are in the newer but relatively small suburbs of the ACT and NT and none currently exceed 5000 people. Four of the other ‘top ten’ fastest expanding regions are in south-east Qld with rates between 27 and 17 per cent, and two already exceed 15 000 people.

For areas with at least 1000 people, the ten fastest dwindling populations are all small communities. All except one had less than 2000 people in June 2009. Four of these were in inland WA north and east of Perth and recorded average annual rates of population decrease of between 3 and 2 per cent. Also in this group are Coober Pedy and the surrounding Far North of South Australia where rates of population decrease were about 2.5 per cent. Three regions in central and southern Qld declined at just under 2 per cent annually. Nationally, a further eight areas with between 500 and 1000 people experienced average annual rates of decline of 1.5 per cent or more.

Table 1. Population growth by state and territory
Population (million) Population growth rates (%)
2004
(million)
2009 (million) Increase 2004 – 2009 (‘000) 2005 2009 Average annual population growth
2004 – 2009 (%)
Projected population 2026 (million) (a)
(a) ABS series B presented in Population Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2101, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra 2008
New South Wales 6.73 7.19 462.62 0.86 1.64 1.34 8.40
Victoria 5.01 5.50 482.44 1.43 2.13 1.85 6.50
Queensland 3.95 4.47 526.97 2.48 2.44 2.54 6.04
South Australia 1.55 1.63 88.33 0.90 1.32 1.11 1.88
Western Australia 2.00 2.27 271.52 1.93 2.65 2.59 3.00
Tasmania 0.48 0.51 20.74 0.80 0.89 0.85 0.55
Northern Territory 0.20 0.23 23.93 2.27 2.21 2.25 0.29
Australian Capital Territory 0.33 0.35 26.74 1.29 1.83 1.60 0.42
Australia 20.25 22.16 1903.30 1.44 1.99 1.81 27.24
Table 2. Ten areas with largest population increase 2004–2009
Change 2004–2009
Statistical local area Estimated population June 2009 Number Average annual increase (%)
Melton - East (Vic) 53 349 21 016 10.5
Rockingham (WA) 100 231 19 726 4.5
Ipswich - East (Qld) 63 966 18 910 7.3
Wyndham - North (Vic) 91 910 18 906 4.7
Whittlesea - North (Vic) 38 412 18 807 14.4
Swan (WA) 110 051 17 859 3.6
Wanneroo - North-West (WA) 51 285 17 754 8.9
Casey - Cranbourne (Vic) 78 526 17 731 5.3
Wanneroo - North-East (WA) 43 406 17 073 10.5
Hume - Craigieburn (Vic) 65 698 15 747 5.6
Table 3. Ten areas with largest population decline 2004–2009
Change 2004–2009
Statistical local area Estimated population June 2009 Number Average annual decrease (%)
Moree Plains (NSW) 14 406 -795 1.1
Bourke (NSW) 3 070 -468 2.8
Kambah (ACT) 15 883 -441 0.5
Onkaparinga - Morphett (SA) 23 558 -440 0.4
Walgett (NSW) 7 209 -402 1.1
Murrindindi - West (Vic) 7 150 -395 1.1
Broken Hill (NSW) 19 960 -372 0.4
Yarra Ranges - Dandenongs (Vic) 30 698 -310 0.2
Lachlan (NSW) 6 872 -307 0.9
Balonne (Qld) 4 847 -292 1.2

Library publications and key documents

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3218.0 - Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2008-09, cat. no. 3218.0, ABS, Canberra, 2010, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/3218.0Main+Features12008-09?OpenDocument

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian demographic statistics, December quarter 2009, cat. no. 3101.0, ABS, Canberra, 2010, http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/F61F4E6F3B1770A6CA25774B0016244B/$File/31010_dec%202009.pdf

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