Charting Australia’s population growth

By Leith van Onselen

Following the release yesterday by the ABS of the Australian Demographic Statistics for the December quarter of 2011, I decided to crunch the numbers to determine how Australia’s population and migration numbers are tracking.

According to the ABS, Australia’s population grew by 1.4% in the 2011 calendar year, which was the highest annual recorded rate of growth since March 2010, but only slightly above the 30-year average of 1.3%. However, the growth in the number of persons in 2011 was 302,500, which was 55,500 above the 30-year average (see below charts).

As shown above, Australia’s population growth continues to be driven by net overseas migration (NOM) – i.e. those residing in Australia for 12 months or more.

While NOM declined significantly – from a peak of 315,700 in calendar year 2008 to 184,000 in calendar year 2012 – it remains well above the average level of 123,000.

Moreover, the proportion of population growth derived from NOM – 61% in calendar year 2011 – remains well above the 30-year average of 47% (see below chart).

Separate data compiled by the ABS, which measures permanent arrivals/departures into Australia only, suggest that nearly two-thirds of NOM is temporary.

As shown in the next chart, the number of net permanent arrivals into Australia was 67,000 in the 12 months to April 2012, which is tracking just above the 30-year average of 66,000.

While natural increase – the difference between births and deaths – is not the key driver of Australia’s population growth, it too is running at levels well above the 30-year average. However, it has begun to trend downwards, falling from a peak of 155,100 in the 12 months to September 2010 to 145,900 in the 2011 calendar year, caused by both a decline in the number of births as well as an increase in deaths (see below chart).

More recently, Australia’s population growth rate has been driven by migration into Australia’s key resources state – Western Australia – where population grew at a rate (2.9%) that was double the national average (1.4%) in 2011 (see below chart).

In number terms, however, population growth in 2011 was highest in Victoria (75,400), followed by New South Wales (70,982), Western Australia (67,420) and Queensland (66,493) (see below chart).

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  1. Mr SquiggleMEMBER

    Thank you Leith, you’ve done my homework for me!

    ” the proportion of population growth derived from NOM – 61% in calendar year 2011″

    This is a stab in the back for children borne today.

    The average age of NOM is 31 years old.

    In 30 years time they will be retiring and the kiddies born today will be hitting 30 years old.

    The increased tax burden will be big. 60% share of increase to NOM is too big, it should 60% natural increase.

  2. Rumplestatskin

    So basically, our population level and growth rate is a policy choice, since >60% of growth has been from immigration. And of course, immigration rules are a very active policy decision.

    In contrast, locals are choosing lower population growth (flat or negative population growth) through their fertility decisions. We also have an interesting point about immigrants arriving during their fertile years, and then adding immediately to natural increase. As the Productivity commission noted, but the media ignored, immigration is not a cure for an increase in the dependency ratio we expect from ageing baby boomers.

    So why this seeming contradiction between political decisions and personal choices? Could their be vested interested in the immigration policy debate? I think so. Let me just have a read of my local Fairfax rag to get a balanced view on this.

    Why don’t we band together and start a political party that highlights this and promotes a stable population through immigration laws? Oh, right, there is one of those already

    Rant over.

    Keep up the regular analysis on population Leith. BTW, is there an error in your chart labelling between natural increase, and immigration? Since they don’t reconcile with the % from immigration figures.


  3. thomickersMEMBER

    I noticed that some people at my last highschool reunion did not show up. Maybe they form part of the 300,000 people who have vanished into thin air?

  4. Would interesting to know what proportion of the temporary entrants in NOM are international students? Think from 2006 they were included in population data, but like the UK many think they should not be included as majority are just that, temporary, and they often skew or spike population numbers (adding fuel to alarmist headlines of runaway population growth etc.).

    What is a sustainable population? Is it not more about the existing population living more sustainably?

    Australia can stop immigration etc. and population drifts downwards (aka Japan, Russia, Eastern Europe etc.) but still have an unsustainable population due to our (preferred and existing) way of life. This includes large houses with small household numbers, in suburbs without services, high energy usage/wastage, reliance upon cars, with our inefficient colonial states and respective capitals hogging resources at the expense of regions.

    This will change, hopefully, with peak oil, much higher utility costs, need for better transport, much improved urban planning/design and digital including communications etc. making even playing field for regions (We can hope for constitutional reform).