The ABS released its Population by Age and Sex data to 30 June 2014 this week, which showed that Greater Sydney (4.84 million) and Greater Melbourne (4.44 million) continued to dominate population growth.
Over the five year period to 30 June 2014 Australia’s population increased by +1.8 million from 21.7 million close to 23.5 million, an increase of 8.3 per cent.
Just four capital cities accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the increase, those being Greater Sydney (+348k), Greater Melbourne (+408k), Greater Brisbane (+206k), and Greater Perth (+282k).
With the exception of Queensland, regional population growth away from the capitals was relatively subdued in absolute terms.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) had already noted this dynamic in its enlightening study last year:
“[we] can’t help noticing how difficult it seems to grow the smaller cities in this country relative to the bigger cities.”
Melbourne leads the population boom
Sprawling Greater Melbourne has been the undisputed king of population growth over the past half decade, increasing in size by more than 10 per cent or +408,000 persons.
Meanwhile in aggregate the whole of regional Victoria accounted for only population growth of just +61,000 (from 1.34 million to 1.4 million persons).
It is worthwhile noting that while some regional areas have grown quite significantly in percentage terms – including Geelong (+8.5 per cent), Bendigo (+6.5 per cent) and Ballarat (+7.4 per cent) – in absolute terms there is simply no comparison between population growth in the capital city and regional areas.
Population growth was particularly weak in Warrnambool, Hume, Shepparton and the North West, mirroring some earlier ABS projections which have implied that regional population growth in Victoria may dry up completely or even decline over the decades ahead.
Foremost amongst the implications of this is that if you were to visit, say, the Shepparton region in 25 years time, it will most likely be a slightly larger version of what you find there today.
Greater Melbourne on the other hand will have changed beyond almost all recognition.
Sydney continues to cram them in
Not dissimilarly population growth in New South Wales was monumentally skewed towards Greater Sydney (+348,000) rather than regional New South Wales (+116,000) across the same time frame.
Note here that the “Greater Sydney” region actually encompasses areas such as the Central Coast (+14k) and Hawkesbury-Baulkham Hills (+14k).
While technically speaking some folk can and do commute daily to Sydney from Gosford – and while the Central Coast is a lovely place to visit in its own right – given that inner Sydney folk commonly go on holidays to the Central Coast, to my mind it’s probably a stretch to refer to the region as “Sydney”.
Similarly being located some 50 kilometres to the north-west of the Sydney CBD I can recall from my grade cricketing days that Hawkesbury is so distant from the harbour city that it is home to different types of flies (honestly!).
Nevertheless, the chart below underscores the key point: as the mining construction boom falls away, the capital cities and their surrounds have become what the Reserve Bank has referred to as “self-sustaining jobs magnets”, with regional population and employment growth lagging far behind.
Drilling down to the next statistical area level for New South Wales it can be seen that regional population growth was led by Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley, with Wollongong another meaningful contributor.
As is the case with Victoria, while the population growth in, say, Coffs Harbour was a reasonably strong +3.9 per cent over the past five years, in absolute terms the population change was only a relatively sedate +3,200. It’s a key distinction.
The one Australian state or territory which has recorded some solid regional population growth is Queensland.
Note here again that population in “Greater Brisbane” (+206k) incorporates that of Ipswich (+41k), Logan-Beaudesert (+28k) and Moreton Bay South and North, which is quite some catchment area.
Away from the capital city the strongest population growth over the past five years in absolute terms was to be found on the Gold Coast (+51k) and the Sunshine Coast (+28k).
Overall the data continued to show that the four largest capital cities are attracting the great bulk of immigration and thus are accounting for the majority of headcount growth.
The ABS release also found that for the most part those being in the middle stages of their working lives (aged 28 to 47) were heavily concentrated in capital city areas, such as Surry Hills and Erskineville and Alexandria (both 51 per cent) in Sydney, Collingwood and Elwood (both 47 per cent) in Melbourne, Fortitude Valley (48 per cent) in Brisbane, and Crace (48 per cent) in Canberra.