Australia’s population – telling it like it is, one place at a time

What are the highlights in the latest ABS population data release?

This contains demographic data up to December 2018, providing an overview of the Australian population for the full calendar year, so let’s see what’s going on.

Population in Australia

Population GrowthAt December 2018 the Australian population reached 25.18 million, representing a growth rate of 1.6% over the previous year.

Although the growth rate has remained relatively steady in the last 2-3 years, the volume of growth recorded in 2018 (404,780) is the third time this decade that growth has exceeded 400,000 persons in a calendar year.

Net overseas migration (NOM) continues to account for the largest share of growth (61%).

The fastest growing states are….

Population growth in Victoria continues to outpace the rest of Australia, recording a figure of 2.2% in 2018.

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The rate of population growth in Victoria has exceeded 2% since 2008 in all but two years (2010 and 2011).

NOM continues to be the driver of strong growth in Victoria, accounting for 62% of growth in 2018.

This is clearly shown in the graph below, which shows the components of population change in Victoria since 1982.

It also shows how the volatility of NOM over time, and the scale of the increase since 2006.


Other states that exceeded the national figure were Queensland and the ACT (both 1.8%).

Queensland has well and truly regained the title of the state with the largest net interstate migration gain (23,800 compared to Victoria’s 13,210), but also gains strongly through NOM and natural increase.

DemographicsIn terms of the components of change, Queensland probably exhibits the best balance amongst all of Australia’s states and territories.

In 2018, NOM accounted for 39% of growth, natural increase accounted for 35% and net interstate migration 26%.

Population growth in the ACT slowed in 2018 compared to the previous two years when the rate of growth was above 2%.

NOM and natural increase account for the bulk of growth in the ACT (53% and 43% respectively), with net interstate migration quite volatile.

This possibly reflects the wider catchment of the ACT, which extends into NSW, meaning that people can commute into Canberra from surrounding locations such as Queanbeyan.

For instance, a major land release in NSW, but within the ACT catchment, would encourage movement across the border, particularly if there are no suitable housing options within the ACT.

WA and NT lose people interstate

In the last year the Northern Territory has recorded population loss, primarily due to increased volumes of net interstate migration loss.

In 2018, the growth rate was -0.4%, compared to 0.3% in 2017.

demographics-people-search-population-leader-findThe rate of interstate migration loss has been steadily increasing over the last decade, reaching more than 4,200 persons in 2018.

At the same time, the volume of NOM has declined to its lowest level since 2003.

Natural increase also declined slightly in 2018, mainly due to a decline in the number of births.

Western Australia continues to record modest population growth – the rate was 0.9% in 2018.

This is a far cry from the heyday of the mining industry when rates above 2.5% were the norm.

Since the September 2013 quarter, Western Australia has recorded net interstate migration loss.

The losses gained traction until 2016, when net interstate migration loss totalled more than 13,130.

There has been some recovery in 2017 and 2018, but net interstate migration loss continues to influence overall levels of population change in Western Australia.

Tasmania is growing quickly – but it’s all relative

Tasmania’s population grew by 1.2% in 2018.

This might be below the national average but the devil is in the detail.

baby-cradle-population-demographic-birth-people-child-increase-growth-futureThe volume of growth was 6,500, which is the highest volume since 1990.

Net interstate migration has been positive since 2015, and NOM has also increased rapidly since the same year.

Given that migration is a volatile component of population change, it remains to be seen if these levels of population growth are sustainable in the long term.

ABS data shows that Tasmania still loses young adults (15-24 years) interstate, but gains families and retirees.

People in family age groups may have more children upon moving to Tasmania which would then curb the decline in natural increase that has been characteristic of the state for many years.

However, as shown in a recent report by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, the recent surge in population growth favours the cities.

Overall the ageing population in Tasmania will continue to suppress population growth, with the potential for population decline mid-century.


Australia National House States

Australia’s population reached 25.18 million at December 2018, which represented a growth rate of 1.6% and an increase of 404,780 persons over the previous twelve months.

Victoria was the fastest growing state (2.2%), with NOM the main driver of growth.

Queensland and the ACT also grew above the national average (both 1.8%).

The Northern Territory recorded population loss (-0.4%) in 2018, the only state to do so.

Tasmania continues to record relatively high levels of population growth due to interstate and overseas migration, but it remains to be seen how long this trend will persist.

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Simone Alexander


Simone Alexander is a demographic consultant with more than 20 years of experience working in both the public and private sectors. She uses her expertise to blog about demographic trends, housing and planning issues in Australia’s cities and regions.

'Australia’s population – telling it like it is, one place at a time' have 1 comment


    July 8, 2019 Ben

    Really, none of this is surpirising for readers who follow these demographics, which have been quite predictable. Most readers however are property people and investors, and what they need to know are the economic drivers, and the financial statistics so that they can locate investments effectively and tailor residential products. Clearly the residential market does not need “more of the same” mid priced 2 bed apartments for young execs with no children, but this has been what developers have been providing…leading to the glut. Articles like this infer that migrants need cheaper housing in significant volume, but where specifically and at what price? Perhaps a map could describe this.


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