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By Michael Matusik

Unpacking Australia’s population growth: capitals vs. regional realities

This post is about the most recent annual ABS population growth figures.

Well, most of Australia’s population growth takes place in our capital cities.

Table 1 shows that some 82% (or 517,000) of the country’s 634,500 annual population increase last year took place across our eight capitals.

Australia Estimated Resident Population

Yet when you remove the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Geelong (which really aren’t true regional urban forms anymore) from the regional count the share of regional growth drops to 11% to just 68,250 peeps last year. 

My chart in this post shows how population growth in the capitals and their immediate urban surrounds (as defined above) dominates.

Over the past twenty years, this area averaged an annual increase of 290,000 people or 83% of Australia’s total change.

Annual Population Growth By Region

The chart about how COVID changed our population distribution – as I have tried to point out across several posts in recent years – has been largely noise.

Australian Annual Population Growth

Table 2 outlines the top 30 urban areas in terms of last year’s population growth.

Top 30 Fastest Population Growth By Urban Areas

It shows that these major urban areas hold 92% of the country’s growth.

Several areas - as one might expect given the table shows 30 urban areas - are regional cities and towns.

But most of these are well established and have been growing for a long time.

Two regions that are relatively new to this top 30 list include Warragul in Victoria and Morisset in New South Wales.

Warragul is outside of Melbourne, on the capital’s western flank.

Whilst it is a nice regional town, the major population driver is that its housing stock is relatively affordable when compared to Bendigo, Ballarat, and Geelong.

Ditto when it comes to Morisset, which is south of Wollongong.

It is cheaper than living in the ‘Gong’ and especially ‘The Shire’.

Yet if population growth is to continue in such regional locales, then new residents need to be ‘pulled’ there rather than ‘pushed’ from somewhere else.

The current ‘push’ is dwelling prices and rents.

‘Pull’, and despite the working from home movement, typically involves locally based work.

And I can tell you that living in a true regional town is not for everyone.

My final point is that most population commentary seems to be based on the percentage change rather than the actual numbers.

This helps make a media splash but really doesn’t mean much.

An increase of 100 people in a location with 2,500 residents means a 4% lift but give me 20,000 new people in a location of 500,000 any day.

A hundred new residents mean there is a need to build some 40 to 45 new homes – a big ask, true, in a small regional town – but a 20,000 annual population lift translates to 8,500 to 9,000 new dwellings.

It's actual bums on seats that count.

And if you wanted to make population growth comparisons between locations – and whilst this way shows a percentage change in a different way – most people better appreciate the increase per 100 residents rather than a less unambiguous percentage change.

About Michael Matusik Michael is director of independent property advisory Matusik Property Insights. He is independent, perceptive and to the point; has helped over 550 new residential developments come to fruition and writes his insightful Matusik Missive
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