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Australia’s population growth was just 0.3% year on year, but is set to lift as migration starts to recover - featured image
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Australia’s population growth was just 0.3% year on year, but is set to lift as migration starts to recover

Australia’s population grew just 0.3% year on year in Q3 2021, with growth well below the pre-pandemic average of 1.6% given the closed international border from March 2020, with a staged reopening beginning 1 November 2021.

In terms of heads, this equates to the population increasing by just 68,900 people compared to 380,000 a year prior to the pandemic.

The closed international border during the pandemic saw net migration swing sharply negative from June 2020, and over the past year was -67.2 thousand compared to +250 thousand a year prior to the pandemic.

Population Growth Rolling 4 Quarter

What's ahead?

Looking forward, the phased re-opening of the international border in November 2021 is starting to see a pick-up in net international arrivals into Australia.

The government noted over one million people have entered Australia, including more than 130,000 international students, 70,000 skilled migrants and 10,000 working holidaymakers.

The government is projecting population growth to lift to 0.7% in 2021-22 and get to 1.2% in 2022-23.

Underpinning the pick-up is net positive migration of 41 thousand in 2021-22, 180 thousand in 2022-23 and 213 thousand in 2023-24.

In a recent research report NAB identified 3 interesting themes emerging during the pandemic.

  1. There has been a large pick-up in net interstate migration into QLD since the pandemic began from NSW and VIC;
  2. In terms of urban areas, outer-suburban areas near capital cities have seen the greatest growth in population during the pandemic, though many regional areas have actually grown at a slower rate than their pre-pandemic trends;
  3. Births have recovered from their pandemic lows to be at their highest level ever.

Australia's Historical Population Growth

State dynamics

In terms of state population changes, Queensland saw the highest population growth rate of 1.1%, while VictoriaI saw a large fall of -0.5%.

Much of this can be explained by net interstate migration with Queensland seeing a net inflow of people from other states of 40,600 over the past year compared to a pre-pandemic annual rate of 23,000.

Net Interstate Migration Rolling 4 Quarter

Since the pandemic began, 59,700 people have moved on net to QLD with those net arrivals largely coming from NSW and Victoria.

Qld Migration By State Quarterly

As for the other states, population growth was relatively weak elsewhere – WA (+0.7%); NSW (+0.3%); SA (+0.1%); TAS (+0.0%); ACT (-0.1%); and NT (-0.2%).

Population Growth Year Ended

Net Overseas Migration Rolling 4th Quarter


The birth rate has been under focus given the sharp fall seen at the height of the pandemic.

Encouragingly births had started to recover from March 2021 and on a quarterly basis are at their highest ever.

Anecdotes of maternity units being at capacity at many hospitals is a testament to this.

It is likely most of the pick-up in births represents ‘catch-up’ for families who postponed having children amid uncertainty at the height of the pandemic, rather than a sustained increase.

Components Of Natural Increase

Regional dynamics

There was a slight decrease in people living in capital cities (-0.1%) with Melbourne (-1.3% or -65.1 thousand people less) seeing the biggest fall.

Outer-suburban areas within capital cities saw the most growth driven by net internal migration as people moved from inner urban areas.

This can be seen looking at the top three urban areas by % change increases, which included Victorian outer-suburban towns Warragul, Drouin (+3.7%) and Bacchus Marsh (+2.9%).

Population Change 2020 21 Top 20 Gainers

In terms of absolute growth outside of capital cities, The Gold Coast-Tweed Heads (+9.4 thousand), Newcastle-Maitland (7.5 thousand), Sunshine Coast (+5.6 thousand) and Geelong (+5.4 thousand) were top destinations, though most of these increases were below pre-pandemic averages.

Population Change Bottom 20 Changes

In the top 20 growing urban areas, only six saw population growth in excess of pre-pandemic trends (Newcastle-Maitland, Ballarat, Warragul-Drouin, Port Macquarie, Bacchus Marsh, Morisset-Cooranbong).

Guest Author: Olivia Kristensen, National Australia Bank — the original article appeared here.

About Guest Expert Apart from our regular team of experts, we frequently publish commentary from guest contributors who are authorities in their field.
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