Regional population, 2019–20

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

ABS cat. no. 3218.0 30 March 2021

Compared to 2018-19, population growth in 2019-20 in most capital cities declined, primarily driven by a decline in net overseas migration associated with the international border restrictions in early 2020. Growth in regional areas increased, mainly driven by fewer regional residents moving to the capital cities.

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Hobart experienced slower population growth. By contrast, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin experienced higher population growth in 2019-20 than 2018-19, despite the national drop in net overseas migration.

The impact of reduced international migration was concentrated in the central business districts (CBDs) of the capital cities. The local government areas covering the CBDs of Melbourne and Sydney experienced declines in population growth, while population growth in the Perth’s CBD increased.

This release covers the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Regional Population, Australia, 2020 release includes population data for regions within Australia down to small geographic areas including Local Government Areas (LGAs). This publication provides new data for the year between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020.

Population Growth in the Greater Capital Cities (GCCSA)

This release covers the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as Chart 1 shows, capital cities were affected even in the early stages between March and June 2020. While Sydney remained the largest greater capital city at June 2020 (5,367,000 people), followed by Melbourne (5,159,000 people) and Brisbane (2,561,000 people), population growth in most capital cities declined over the year (Table 1).

Chart 1: Combined capital city and rest of state growth — 2002 onwards

However, this effect was not universal. While Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart recorded the largest declines in population growth (-0.7 percentage points, -0.6 percentage points and -0.4 percentage points respectively), Darwin, Perth and Adelaide all saw higher growth than in 2018-19, increasing growth by 0.5 percentage points, 0.4 percentage points and 0.1 percentage points respectively (Table 1).

Table 1: Population growth in capital cities, June 2019 to June 2020
Capital City
Population in June 2020 Population growth 2019
(per cent)
Population growth 2020
(per cent)
(percentage points)
Sydney 5,367,206 1.6 1.1 -0.6
Melbourne 5,159,211 2.3 1.6 -0.7
Brisbane 2,560,720 2.1 1.9 -0.3
Perth 2,125,114 1.4 1.8 0.4
Adelaide 1,376,601 1.1 1.2 0.1
Canberra 431,380 1.4 1.2 -0.2
Hobart 238,834 1.5 1.1 -0.4
Darwin 147,231 -0.7 -0.1 0.5

Components of Growth in Capital Cities (GCCSA)

Most capital cities saw a drop in population growth due to a decline in the level of net overseas migration. The largest declines in net overseas migration were recorded in Sydney and Melbourne – cities where net overseas migration historically contributes a large proportion of population growth. Declines were also recorded in all other capital cities except for Perth and Hobart, which saw slight increases in net overseas migration (Chart 2).

Chart 2: Net overseas migration in largest capital cities and the rest of Australia, 2019 to 2020

Net internal migration to capital cities was also lower in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra, and higher in Adelaide, Perth and Darwin. This was likely due to travel restrictions and concerns about COVID-19, which has seen places that are normally net donors of internal migrants retain those people. Natural increase has remained relatively stable in all cities.

Sydney saw a decline in net overseas migration from the previous year with just 50,100 people being added between June 2019 and June 2020. Consistent with historical trends, Sydney recorded a net internal migration loss (-30,100 people) and added 37,100 people via natural increase.

Melbourne's level of population growth was largely driven by net overseas migration despite seeing a decline of 22,200 net overseas migrants since 2018-19. Melbourne also recorded a net internal migration loss (-9,300 people) and natural increase remained relatively steady at 33,300.

Brisbane recorded population growth across all components despite both net overseas migration and net internal migration being lower than the previous year. Net overseas migration contributed 16,200 people, net internal migration added 13,800 people and natural increase contributed 17,000.

Perth was one of only 3 cities to record increased growth in 2019-20, with net overseas migration contributing 22,200 people, or 6,700 more people than in 2018-19. For the first time since 2016-17, Perth recorded an inflow from net internal migration with just over 700 people. Natural increase added 14,600 people, a slight reduction on the previous year.

Like Perth, Adelaide also recorded higher growth in 2019-20 than the previous year. This was largely due to the city experiencing a smaller net internal migration loss than previous years, with 1,400 fewer people departing Adelaide than 2018-19. Net overseas migration added 13,700 people and natural increase added 4,800 people, both slightly lower than the previous year.

The Australian Capital Territory’s population growth was largely driven by natural increase and net overseas migration (adding 3,400 people and 2,400 people respectively). Net internal migration fell slightly by around 500 people. Both net overseas migration and net internal migration were lower than the previous year, while natural increase was slightly higher.

Hobart’s lower population growth in 2019-20 was largely driven by a net internal migration loss of 400 people, reversing some of the city’s previous net internal migration gains (between 1,000 and 1,300 people each year from 2016-17). Net overseas migration contributed 2,100 people to population growth and natural increase just over 900 people.

Darwin was the third city to experience higher population growth compared to 2018-19. Darwin still saw a net internal migration loss, internal departures fell by 1,700 people compared to 2018-19. Natural increase remained stable and net overseas migration fell by 600 people compared to 2018-19.

Chart 3: Components of population change — Greater Capital Cities, Australia, 2019–20

Population Growth Outside the Capital Cities (GCCSA) — Regional areas

Similar to previous years, regional areas grew more slowly than the capital cities, however growth in most regional areas did not decline to the same extent as their respective capital cities. The one exception was regional Tasmania, which grew more than Hobart for the first time since the series began in 2002.

The fastest growing areas were regional Queensland with 1.4 per cent growth, regional Victoria with 1.3 per cent growth and regional Tasmania with 1.2 per cent growth. Regional New South Wales followed with 0.8 per cent growth, regional Western Australia with 0.5 per cent growth, regional South Australia with 0.4 per cent growth and regional Northern Territory with 0.2 per cent growth.

Table 2: Population growth in rest of state regional areas, June 2019 to June 2020
Rest of State
Population in June 2020 Population growth 2019
(per cent)
Population growth 2020
(per cent)
(percentage points)
Regional NSW 2,800,326 0.8 0.8 0
Regional Vic 1,537,459 1.4 1.3 -0.1
Regional Qld 2,615,466 1.3 1.4 0.1
Regional WA 538,447 0 0.5 0.5
Regional SA 393,774 0.4 0.4 0
Regional Tas 301,946 0.9 1.2 0.3
Regional NT 98,912 0.1 0.2 0.1

Components of Growth Outside the Capital Cities (GCCSA) — Regional areas

Regional areas in all states and territories had higher net internal migration in 2019-20 than in 2018-19. In 2019-20, regional New South Wales and Queensland had the largest level increases in net internal migration with an additional 5,700 people and 4,700 people respectively compared to 2018-19. The regional areas of New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia saw positive net internal migration of 9,200, 1,600 and 200 people respectively. Regional Western Australia and regional Northern Territory both recorded net internal migration losses of 3,100 and 800 people but these were both increases compared to 2018-19 levels (losing 1,900 and 300 fewer people respectively).

By contrast, regional areas in all states and territories had lower growth from natural increase in 2019-20 than 2018-19. Regional Queensland added the most people from natural increase with 11,360 people, about 600 less than 2018-19.

Unlike net internal migration and natural increase, the net overseas migration picture for regional areas is more mixed. The regional areas of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Northern Territory all recorded lower net overseas migration than the previous year. The largest year-on-year declines were in regional NSW (3,900 people fewer) and regional Victoria (2,000 people fewer). Conversely, the regional areas of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania all had higher net overseas migration than the previous year.

Chart 4: Components of population change – regional areas, Australia, 2019–20

COVID-19 impacts on suburban and specific regional areas

The effects of COVID-19 are more pronounced at more local levels than at the aggregate city, and to a lesser extent regional, levels. For example, the growth rates of local government areas (LGAs) covering the central business districts (CBDs) of major cities most reliant on overseas migration (Sydney and Melbourne) have declined substantially since 2018-19. Whereas others, namely Perth CBD, has experienced a significant boost in 2019-20 (see Chart 5).

Chart 5: Population growth in the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth CBD LGAs

Unlike the CBDs, the LGAs of greenfield housing development areas on the outskirts of major cities continue to grow strongly. Areas such as Camden in Sydney, Wyndham in Melbourne and Serpentine-Jarrahdale in Perth have all remained in the top 5 fastest growing LGAs in 2019-20 (compared to 2018-19).

Interaction with National, State and Territory Population Statistics (previously 3101.0 Australian Demographic Statistics)

At times, the data in this publication will not exactly match the data presented in ABS Release National, State and Territory Population due to the status of annual sub-state population data changes over time (from preliminary to revised to final) as new component data becomes available at the state level.

Table 3: Upcoming major ABS population releases
Release Former catalogue Release date
Provisional Mortality Statistics Jan–Dec 2020 NA 31 Mar 2021
Migration, Australia 2019-20 3412.0 23 April 2021
Regional Internal Migration Estimates, Provisional (PRIME), December quarter 2020 NA 4 May 2021
National, state and territory population, December 2020 3101.0 17 June 2021