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The latest release of regional population data by the ABS showed that the City of Perth recorded the strongest growth of all LGAs in Australia (7.1%).
This was an intriguing outcome, and is indicative of an upward shift in population growth in Western Australia (WA) over the last two years.
But has this been uniform across the state?
What trends can be seen at a local level?
Read on to find out.
Population of Western Australia
History shows that population change in WA tends to mirror the ebbs and flows of the mining sector.
This is shown in the chart below, which shows the rate and volume of population growth over the last 40 years.
During the mining boom of the 2000s and early 2010s, population growth in WA exceeded 2% per annum, and reached a peak of 3.2% in 2008-09.
There was a sharp decline in the growth rate after 2013, and this continued until 2015-16 when the growth rate was 0.6%.
Since that time, the annual growth rate has gradually increased as the economy has recovered and new mining projects have commenced.
Whether the heady heights of the previous boom will be repeated remains to be seen, and needs to be viewed in the context of the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019-20, WA recorded a growth rate of 1.5%, representing 40,300 people.
This was the same rate recorded by Victoria, and marginally behind the 1.6% recorded by Queensland.
The volume and rate of growth was double that recorded in 2017-18 (0.8%, 19,900 persons).
Much of this recent increase is attributable to higher volumes of migration.
Despite the closure of the international border in March 2020, net overseas migration to WA amounted to almost 25,000 persons, more than double that recorded in 2017-18.
Similarly, while WA loses population through interstate migration, that loss has gradually diminished since 2016-17.
More recent data shows that in the September 2020 quarter, WA recorded a modest gain from interstate migration, the first quarterly increase since June 2013.
In contrast, the volume of natural increase has trended downwards in recent years, mainly due to a decline in birth numbers.
Whether this trend will be sustained in future years is highly dependent on when Australia’s border will reopen to migration.
Spatial patterns of population change
The map below shows the population growth rate recorded in WA’s LGAs during 2019-20.
As mentioned above, the City of Perth recorded the strongest growth rate (7.1%) in the country.
This represented a volume of 2,055 persons, which was the highest on record.
It was primarily driven by migration, both from overseas (50% of the volume) and other parts of Australia (42%).
The City of Perth is small in size, and new dwellings facilitate population growth, most notably high rise apartments across the CBD and neighbouring suburbs such as East Perth and Northbridge.
The nature of high rise apartment construction, with long lead times and substantial capital requirements, means that population growth can be volatile.
For instance, between 2003-04 and 2008-09, the population growth rate was more than 7% each year.
Conversely, population growth was less than 2% in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Changes in dwelling occupancy eg fewer unoccupied dwellings and increased household sizes, may also explain some of the volatility.
Several LGAs in Perth’s southern suburbs also grew strongly in 2019-20.
These included Serpentine-Jarrahdale (4.1%), Kwinana (3.7%) and Armadale (3.4%).
Internal migration and natural increase were more important in driving population growth in these LGAs.
They contain numerous greenfield developments, which provide home owning opportunities for young couples and families. North-east of the CBD, the City of Swan also recorded strong growth (3.4%).
Only one LGA in metropolitan Perth recorded negative population growth, but the rate and volume were very small.
This was Mosman Park, a small LGA in the western suburbs, where growth of -0.1% (13 people) was recorded.
Mundaring, a semi-rural LGA on the eastern outskirts, recorded negligible growth of just 3 people.
Regional Western Australia
Outside of Perth, the strongest growth was recorded in the south-west, most notably in Augusta-Margaret River (3.2% or 519 people).
Internal migration drives population growth here.
It is a region of high amenity and a notable tourism destination, which act as pull factors and encourage population growth.
Elsewhere in the south-west, Nannup (2.6%) and Denmark (2.5%) also recorded strong growth.
Away from the coast however, growth was more subdued, to the point that many LGAs lost population in 2019-20.
There were 44 LGAs in Western Australia that recorded negative population growth in 2019-20.
These were mainly located in inland agricultural regions and remote areas, and a number of them have very small populations.
Northampton Shire, located in the Mid West region, recorded population change of -2.3%.
This was driven by net internal migration loss.
Interestingly, LGAs in the north of the state that grew strongly in the previous mining boom did not necessarily record high levels of growth in 2019-20.
This is despite increased investment, exploration and construction activity in the mining sector.
However, the population losses that have occurred in recent years appear to be diminishing.
The Shire of East Pilbara has lost about 13% of its population since 2013, but in 2019-20 the loss was just -0.1% (12 people).
On the other hand, Exmouth (2.2%) and Port Hedland (2.1%) recorded their strongest growth since 2013.
Western Australia recorded a population growth rate of 1.5% in 2019-20, the strongest rate since the end of the previous mining boom.
This stronger growth was reflected across Perth’s southern suburbs, and notably, the City of Perth itself.
The 7.1% recorded here was the strongest rate across all LGAs in Australia.
Parts of the south west of the state, as well as some LGAs in the north, also grew strongly.
However, inland agricultural and remote regions recorded population decline.
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