Provisional Regional Internal Migration Estimates (PRIME), September 2020

Centre for Population analysis of the Regional population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

Reference period: September 20203 February 2021

COVID-19 restrictions and the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic continue to reduce the number of people moving interstate in Australia. Provisional data for September 2020 shows the number of people moving interstate is down 11 per cent in the past 12 months, with 45,500 fewer people moving interstate compared to the previous year. Regional areas had their highest net internal migration gain on record in the year to September 2020, driven by a drop in people moving to capital cities.

Melbourne had the largest fall in net internal migration due to the prolonged lockdown to curb a COVID-19 outbreak. Melbourne had a net loss of 17,200 residents in the year to September 2020, compared to a net loss of 700 residents in the year to September 2019. This was driven by a large reduction in arrivals to Melbourne, while departures from Melbourne remained steady. The most common destination for people leaving Melbourne was regional Victoria.

COVID-19 restrictions and the Melbourne lockdown had an impact on the net internal migration for all regions across Australia. Some states and territories have reversed recent internal migration trends, driven by a falling number of residents leaving their home state or territory.

COVID-19 restrictions and the socio-economic impact have driven down interstate migration…

In the year to September 2020, there were 45,500 fewer interstate moves nationally compared to 404,000 a year earlier, a drop of 11 per cent. The September 2020 quarter had the lowest level of interstate migration since December 2015.

Chart 1. Level of interstate migration, year ending, 2002 to 2020

The fall in interstate migration is driven by restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 and economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The size of the decline in interstate movements is similar to those observed during past economic downturns in Australia and internationally.

…and regional areas of Australia continue to gain as fewer people are moving to capital cities.

In the year to September 2020, the provisional data shows areas outside of capital cities have continued to experience high net internal migration. Areas outside the capital cities had a net gain of 36,200 people, the highest net gain on record.

The net gain of people outside capital cities was driven by a decrease in the number of people moving from regions to the capitals. Around 193,000 residents moved from regions to capital cities in the year to September 2020, 25,500 fewer than the 218,600 that moved in the year to September 2019.

Chart 2. Intrastate and interstate migration, regions outside capital cities, year ending, 2002 to 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria and Melbourne had a substantial impact on interstate migration…

This release also shows the impact of the second Victorian lockdown following the outbreak that started in Melbourne in late June. Melbourne went into stage 4 restrictions in early August, with the lockdown lifting in late November.  These restrictions led to a steep fall in internal migration to Melbourne, which caused Victoria to record a negative net migration for the first time since December 2008, with a net outflow of 3,500 people in the year to September 2020. 

Chart 3. Net internal migration, Victoria, 2002 to 2020

The lockdown of Melbourne had a substantial impact on internal migration to the city. In the year to September 2020, Melbourne had a net outflow of 17,200 residents, 25 times larger than that observed in the year to September 2019 (-700).

This outflow marks the largest net migration loss for Melbourne on record, with the majority of the outflow, 15,400 of the 17,200, occurring in the six months to September 2020. The impacts of the Melbourne lockdown can largely be seen in the September quarter.

Driving this historic net outflow of residents is a sharp drop in the number of people arriving to Melbourne. Arrivals fell to 14,400 in the September quarter 2020, a drop of 28 per cent from 20,000 in the September quarter 2019. In contrast, the number of residents leaving Melbourne has been relatively steady, with a fall in departures of 4 per cent.

Melbourne has recently been a strong net gainer of internal migrants, drawing people from all over Australia. The drop in arrivals to Melbourne has had a flow-on effect to all other state and territories.

Chart 4. Melbourne arrivals and departures, 2002 to 2020

…and raised net migration for other areas of Australia over the last 6 months.

The fall in arrivals to Melbourne has had an impact on internal migration for all cities and regions in Australia, with potential migrants to Melbourne staying in their current states due to border closures and the Melbourne lockdown.

In addition to economic uncertainty and restrictions in other states, the Melbourne lockdown lowered the number of departures across all other regions of Australia in the 6 months to September 2020. This has particularly affected regions that normally have a large outflow of people to Melbourne, such as regional Victoria, which had a 13 per cent drop in departures in the 6 months to September 2020 and had its largest 6 monthly net gain of people on record (8,600 people).

Chart 5. Decline in the number of residents moving to Melbourne, June and September quarters 2019 and 2020

Western Australia recorded a net inflow of people for the first time in almost a decade, gaining 600 people in the September quarter. Western Australia typically loses people to Victoria and the other eastern states, and this return to positive net interstate migration was driven by a 26 per cent fall in departures from the state in the 6 months to September 2020.

South Australia had a second quarter of positive net interstate migration in the September quarter for the first time since 1991. South Australia has typically had a net loss of interstate migration in the past, with more departures than arrivals.  

Queensland continued to have the largest net gain of people compared to all other states and territories in Australia for the 6 months to September 2020, with 14,000 people arriving in the state in net terms.

Chart 6. Net interstate migration, state and territories, year ending, 2010 to 2020

Timing of COVID-19 impacts in this data

Interstate migration estimates are based on Medicare change of address data. When calculating migration estimates based on Medicare data, the ABS assumes a three month lag between the actual change of address and the update of the Medicare address. In reality, there may be variations in the timeliness with which internal migrants update their Medicare address. Further, COVID-19 may have led to changes in how people interact with Medicare and choose to update their information. Given the proximity of the onset of the Melbourne lockdown to the end of the June 2020 quarter, it is possible that the impact of the lockdown is visible in internal migration data over a number of quarters. This provides an explanation for why June 2020 quarter figures for Melbourne appear to show some impact of the lockdown despite the lockdown not commencing until early July.

New detailed data, commissioned by the Centre for Population, Treasury

This is the second release of PRIME data by the ABS, a release funded by the Centre for Population. PRIME data provides quarterly estimates of interstate migration and internal migration between capital cities and areas outside the capital cities. Prior to this release, sub-state data was only available annually. This new data provides insight into the immediate impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Future releases of PRIME data will provide further insights into the impact of COVID-19 on internal migration.