Australian population shifts down a gear

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released demographic data for the March 2015 quarter earlier today. 


The data showed that despite a quarterly bounce in population growth, the rate of growth continues to trend lower.

The national population increased by 1.35% over the 12 months to March 2015 which was the lowest annual rate of growth in 9 years. 

Although growth slowed it should still be noted that Australia’s population increased by 315,952 persons over the past year.

Although population growth has slowed it remains well above the long term average of 256,801 per annum

Chart 1

Over the March 2015 quarter, the national population increased by 93,942 persons, substantially higher than what was recorded over the December 2014 quarter when the nationally population recorded an increase of 64,010 persons.

Over the 12 months to March 2015, the national population increased by 315,952 persons which is the lowest annual increase in population since the 12 month period ending June 2011 when the nation recorded population growth of 308,274 persons.

Chart 2

At a national level there are two components of population growth, natural increase (births minus deaths) and net overseas migration. 

Each of these measures recorded a bounce over the past quarter however, both components continue to trend lower on an annual basis.

Over the 12 months to March 2015 natural increase was recorded at 142,898 persons and net overseas migration was recorded at 173,054.

Natural increase was -9.7% lower over the year while net overseas migration was -16.0% lower, its largest annual fall since March 2011.

While the decrease in the rate of natural increase implies a sharp rise in deaths or slowdown in births, it is important that the ABS has noted that there are problems with the preliminary natural increase estimates due to a lag in registering births in both NSW and Vic.

We are likely to an upwards correction to this data over the coming quarters which will lift the rate of population growth.

Chart 3

Across the states and territories the rate of annual population growth is lower compared to the same time a year ago across the board. 

Although population growth is slowing, the sharpest slowdown in population growth is being felt in WA and NT. population growth -australia

In WA the rate of population growth has slowed to 1.4% over the year to March 2015 from 3.5% two years earlier.

Similarly, annual population growth in the NT was 3.0% two years ago and the latest data shows it at just 0.2% over the past year.

Looking at the components of population growth we will ignore natural increase at this juncture because the ABS have highlighted some issues with the data for NSW and Vic.

The two other drivers of population growth at a state and territory level are overseas migration and interstate migration.

NSW and Vic are the major benefactors of net overseas migration to Australia while Vic and Qld are the only benefactors of interstate migration.

Chart 4

Over the 12 months to March 2015, net overseas migration to Australia was recorded at 173,054 persons.

More than two thirds of net overseas migration flowed to NSW (38.9%) and Vic (31.6%).

If you add in Qld (12.1%), the three most populous states accounted for 82.6% of net overseas migration.

Although net overseas migration is trending lower, the impact of the end of the mining boom is very clear

In March 2013, annual net overseas migration was recorded at 41,745 persons in Qld, 53,834 persons in WA and 5,173 persons in NT.

Over the past year, annual net overseas migration had slowed to 20,857 persons in Qld, 15,383 persons in WA and 1,041 persons in NT.

Conversely in NSW where mining is a smaller part of the overall economy, net overseas migration has actually increased from 63,661 persons in March 2013 to 67,272 persons in March 2015.

Similarly in Vic net overseas migration has been much stronger over the past 2 years, falling slightly from 55,562 persons to 54,745 persons.

Of course while most of the overseas migration is coming to NSW and Vic, most of that is flowing into Sydney and Melbourne fuelling more demand for housing and helping to explain why home value growth in those two cities has been so strong.

Chart 5

At a national level net interstate migration cancels itself out and does not add to population growth however, at a state level it can greatly impact on population growth.

immigration flight plane travel visit australia move live demographic populationOver the past 12 months, only Vic (9,774 persons) and Qld (6,195 persons) have seen a positive inflow of residents from other states.

In fact, net interstate migration into Vic is currently at its strongest level on record.

Qld has recorded a slight rebound in net interstate migration however, it continues to hover around its lowest level on record.

For the length of this data series (since 1981) NSW has consistently lost residents to other states and that remains the case losing 6,195 residents over the year.

The outflow of residents from NSW is hovering at around record low levels.

WA has typically been a benefactor of interstate migration however, it lost a net -1,269 residents last year; its greatest loss since June 2003.

Again we can see the impact of the slowing of the resources sector

In March 2013, net interstate migration was recorded at a higher 9,026 persons in Qld and 9,691 persons in WA.

Conversely, net interstate migration at that time was recorded at -15,513 persons in NSW and 3,454 persons in Vic.


The trends in overseas and interstate migration in particular show that the population growth tide has turned away from the mining states and is now firmly focused on NSW and Vic which have relatively little mining sector exposure.

These states are also creating more employment opportunities and are subsequently attracting both people migrating from overseas and interstate.

Higher population growth means more demand for housing, which is one of the drivers pushing dwelling values higher in Sydney and Melbourne.

The more up-to-date overseas arrivals and departures data from the ABS indicates that permanent and long-term arrivals into Australia have continued to trend lower since March 2015.

This indicates that net overseas migration is expected to continue to trend lower over the coming quarters.

It is also likely to result in more of these migrants wanting to move to NSW and Vic due to the fact that these are the states where more jobs are being created.

This is of course despite the fact that the two capital cities in these two states recording home value growth which is well in excess of growth elsewhere.


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Cameron Kusher is Corelogic RP Data’s senior research analyst. Cameron has a thorough understanding of the fundamentals such as demographics, trends & economics. Visit

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