Monday, 29 May 2017

Population growth across Northern Australia slows to a crawl

Dr Andrew Taylor

The White Paper on developing Northern Australia (‘Our North: Our Future’) emphasised the importance of population size for growth in the north. Indeed, the relatively small population in the north was suggested as the key impediment to growth (pg. 4). Targets to grow several cities to a million or more residents by the year 2060 and increase the overall population of the north four-fold (to 4-5 million) were proposed.

Unfortunately, these aspirations came at a time of peak population growth, particularly in the larger centres across the north. Data since then are a sanguine reminder that growth in northern and remote areas is volatile and subject to a multitude of factors (we invented the ‘8D’s of Remote Demography’ to help explain why this is the case).

The chart below shows a decade of estimated net additions to the population of Northern Australia  (as defined in the White Paper) and the annual growth rate (on the right-side Y-axis). In 2008 and 2009 around 25,000 net additions per year to the population occurred and growth was above 2.5% per annum. The decline in both since then is striking, with growth during 2016 close to zero (0.3%), and negative growth only being prevented by overseas migration. Improvements during 2012 and 2013 are interesting, and reflect increased net overseas migration to the region - and particularly for skilled migrants.

Figure 1 - Net additions to the population (left Y-axis) and population growth rate (right Y-axis) for Northern Australia

Source: Author calculations from ABS: 3218.0  Regional Population Growth, Australia, 30 March 2017

So what might some of the causes be? My colleague Professor Dean Carson has put forward that, for the Northern Territory at least, we have become uncompetitive in the interstate migration market and may be experiencing a 'fail to arrive syndrome'. This is borne out at least in part in the data with a 25% decline in the net position for women (the combined net loss from those 'failing to arrive' and female residents departing the NT). In terms of sources for potential new residents, it used to be the case that one in ten people leaving South Australia came to the Territory. That is now at around one in seventeen. Coming north is a risk and we are a long way from family and friends, we are hot and we are more expensive to live in than many other regions. We also fail to 'keep our own' with residents tending to leave the whole region rather than migrating within it. Our research brief and working papers series discuss these and many other issues pertinent to Northern Australia, so take a look.

It will be fascinating to examine these issues in more detail once the 2016 Census data is available in October. In the meantime individual initiatives like big projects funded by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, targeted local migration strategies and 're-branding' strategies to help address the 'fail to arrive syndrome' should help turn the curve around. Demographers like us can help by modelling population outcomes across different sets of initiatives and investments at localised and higher levels. In the north, localised initiatives may be especially important for their aggregated impact on population growth because technology changes and labour-sourcing practices by large (particularly multi-national) companies mean that big infrastructure projects (in general) no longer contribute significantly to local population growth in the north: just ask Darwin!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of colleagues, the Northern Institute or of Charles Darwin University.

Demography North

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Australian Population Association Conference: Coming to Darwin in 2018!

A beautiful Darwin dry season sunset

Dr Andrew Taylor 


Fresh from analysing newly released 2016 Census data, population experts, researchers, practitioners and students will be in Darwin on 18-20 July 2018 for the Australian Population Association’s 19th biennial conference. Along with stimulating content and great networking opportunities, delegates will enjoy Darwin’s perfect dry season weather, its warm and laid-back atmosphere and some ‘only locals know’ highlights. Population issues are paramount for the Northern Territory as we continue to experience relatively low rates of growth, affecting our economy and GST share. The 2018 conference will not only bring a large number of delegates to Darwin, contributing to businesses and our economy, it is an opportunity to present our research and discuss Territory population issues on the national stage.
We are leading the organisation of this major event with support from the Northern Territory Department of Treasury and Finance. The academic program is being managed by Dr Tom Wilson and will be contemporary and insightful. Attendees will experience fantastic value for money and the warmth and culture of our beautiful Top End. I urge academics, planners, policy makers, students and anyone with an interest in population related issues to pencil in the dates of 18-20 July 2018. More information will be available in coming months so stay tuned here and on the Australian Population Association’s website (

See you up North in 2018!

Demography North