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Population growth continues to slow due to ongoing decline in net overseas migration

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released demographic data for the September 2015 quarter last week. The data showed a continuation of the trend towards a slower rate of population growth at a national level. At the end of the quarter, it was estimated that there were 23,860,133 residents of Australia, an increase of just 0.3% over the quarter and 1.3% over the past year.

The 12 months to September 2015 saw an additional 313,237 residents of Australia which is 7.3% lower than over the same quarter in 2014. In fact, the annual increase in population for the country is the lowest it has been since the June 2011 quarter.

At a national level, there are two components of population growth, natural increase (births minus deaths) and net overseas migration. Over the past year, there was a natural increase of 145,585 persons and net overseas migration of 167,652 persons. As the above chart shows, the two measures are converging due to a sharp decline in net overseas migration. Annual net overseas migration is now at its lowest level since September 2006, is -7.0% lower over the year and -46.9% lower than its peak in December 2008.

Population change_APAD

Looking at population growth across the states and territories, the rate of growth has been strongest over the past year in Victoria at 1.7% and lowest in the Northern Territory at 0.3%. The annual rate of population growth is above 1% in all states and territories except the Northern Territory, Tasmania and South Australia. In terms of raw number population increase over the year, New South Wales and Victoria are way out in front of all other areas with increases of 102,243 persons and 102,311 persons respectively. Queensland (55,232) and Western Australia (32,542) were the only other two regions to record annual population growth of more than 15,000 persons. Across the remaining states and territories the annual population increase was recorded at: 12,396 persons in South Australia, 5,491 persons in the Australian Capital Territory, 2,159 persons in Tasmania and 826 persons.
Population trend_APAD

The four most populous states accounted for 93.3% of total population growth over the year with New South Wales and Victoria accounting for 65.3%. The mining states and territories in particular have felt the full brunt of the slowdown in population. At its peak in December 2008, Queensland recorded a population increase of 115,561 with annual growth now less than half this figure. In Western Australia, annual population increases peaked at 88,156 persons in September 2012 and in Northern Territory the annual population increase peaked at 7,073 persons in March 2013.

It is also worthwhile at the state and territory level to have a look at the interstate migration trends. As well as net overseas migration there is net interstate migration across the states and territories which affects population growth.

Firstly if we look at annual net overseas migration, New South Wales (66,540) and Victoria (55,447) account for an overwhelming majority of the population increase. In fact, 72.8% of all net overseas migration was into these two states which is the highest proportion since December 1984. Elsewhere the number of net overseas migrants has been recorded at: 16,725 persons in Queensland, 10,255 persons in South Australia, 14,249 persons in Western Australia, 1,119 persons in Tasmania, 975 persons in the Northern Territory and 2,333 persons in the Australian Capital Territory. Annual net overseas migration into Queensland is at its lowest level since December 2000 and South Australian net overseas migration is at its lowest level since December 2011.

Turning to net interstate migration, movement between the states and territories is slowly starting to rise again; the above chart shows the annual movements between states and territories. The chart shows that since 2003 there has been a fairly consistent decline in the proportion of the population moving interstate. I have to admit this is a little surprising given that it coincides with the end of Sydney’s and Melbourne’s housing boom and is pretty much the beginning of the mining boom. Although, the sudden slowing of interstate migration coincides with the substantial ramping-up of net overseas migration and with net overseas migration we are now seeing a pick-up in interstate migration.

Over the past 12 months, Victoria and Queensland are the only two states or territories to have recorded a positive net inflow of population form other states. Net interstate migration to Victoria was a record high 11,187 persons over the past year compared to 6,890 persons to Queensland. Net interstate migration into Queensland seems to be turning a corner after hitting a trough of 5,598 persons over the year to December 2014. Across the remaining states and territories there have been losses from net interstate migration of: -7,451 persons in New South Wales, -4,125 persons in South Australia, -2,721 persons in Western Australia, -180 persons in Tasmania, -3,019 persons in the Northern Territory and -581 persons in the Australian Capital Territory. The net loss of persons from interstate migration is at its highest level since March 2014 in New South Wales, its highest since June 2009 in South Australia and its greatest since March 2003 in Western Australia. In Tasmania the loss of residents to interstate migration is at its lowest level since June 2011 and it is at its lowest level since December 2013 in the Australian Capital Territory.

The more up-to-date overseas arrivals and departures data indicates that net overseas migration is likely to trend even lower next quarter which will dampen the national rate of population growth further. At the same time, the data shows that Victoria (which would seem to be a proxy for Melbourne) is the migration epicentre of the country attracting large numbers of both overseas and interstate migrants. Meanwhile the outflow of residents leaving New South Wales is picking up pace while interstate migration to Queensland is starting to build. Perhaps we are seeing the impact of high housing costs in Sydney and fairly strong jobs growth in Victoria and Queensland starting to attract Sydneysiders to other parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Weaker economic conditions in Western Australia are seeing residents leave with Victoria and Queensland the benefactors. Meanwhile, Tasmania’s outflow of residents is slowing on the back of the booming tourism sector and a recent improvement in economic conditions.

Finally with population growth slowing we are seeing a better relationship between housing supply and housing demand. After recently hitting record high levels, it is reasonable to expect that the slowing population growth will see property developers respond by seeking fewer approvals for new residential properties.


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