Net internal migration

What is internal migration?

Internal migration is the movement of people across a specified boundary within Australia involving a change in their place of usual residence. This can be within a state or territory, or even within a city.

Interstate migration specifically refers to the movement of people over a state or territory boundary involving a change in their place of usual residence.

Net internal Migration (NIM) = Arrivals − Departures within a specified boundary.

Internal migration has three main dimensions

Intensity: how many people move

The intensity of internal migration is the overall rate or level of movement within Australia, which provides an insight of how mobile a population is, and whether population mobility has changed over time or in reaction to social and economic events.

Patterns: where people move to and from

The patterns of internal migration look at the spatial redistribution of the population, which provides insights into which areas are gaining people and which areas are losing people and informs population policy and planning.

Composition: who is moving

The composition of internal migration gives an insight into the characteristics of people who are moving, and includes characteristics such as age, sex, employment status, and life events such as family formation.

This infographic shows a stylised image symbolising one of three insights into internal migration. First, that the intensity of internal migration is declining over time.
Second, that patterns of internal migration have seen a long-term trend away from inland regional areas to capital cities and coastal areas.
Third, that younger people are typically the most mobile population group.

Patterns of internal migration in Australia

This analysis looks at trends of internal migration prior to COVID-19, to provide a recent historical perspective.

Where have people been moving to in Australia in recent years?

There has been a long-term trend in Australian migration patterns of people moving away from inland regional areas, and towards capital cities and coastal areas. This has resulted in a large concentration of the Australian population in major cities and coastal areas.1

Internal migration patterns also vary among the capital cities. Sydney has historically seen a net loss of people through internal migration, while Melbourne and Brisbane have seen strong net gains of people through internal migration in recent years.

Queensland is a strong gainer of net interstate migration from other states and territories, and had the highest interstate migration net gain of 22,800 people in 2018-19.2 Regions in Queensland such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast have also experienced the largest population growth rates outside of capital cities between 1996 and 2016.3

People leaving New South Wales and the Northern Territory most commonly moved to Queensland, while the most common destination for people leaving South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania was Victoria.4

Net Internal Migration, 2018–⁠19
This infographic shows stylised images of the states and territories of Australia and their capital cities. It includes information on the balance of net internal migration in 2018-19. It shows that in 2018-19: Sydney lost 25,600 people to internal migration, and the remainder of NSW gained 3,500 people. Melbourne gained 2,300 people, and the remainder of Victoria gained 9,900 people. Brisbane gained 15,900 people, and the remainder of Queensland gained 6,900 people. Adelaide lost 3,900 people, and the remainder of South Australia lost 40 people. Perth lost 1,400 people, and the remainder of Western Australia lost 5,000 people. Hobart gained 1,000 people, and the remainder of Tasmania gained 1,000 people. Darwin lost 3,200 people, and the remainder of the Northern Territory lost 1,200 people. The ACT lost 200 people.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020, Stat.Beta dataset: ERP and Components. Data extracted 18 August 2020.

How many people are moving?

The number of people moving, or the intensity of internal migration, has been declining over time both in Australia and internationally for both short and long-distance movements. Research indicates that this is largely due to behavioural changes, and is likely due to either people choosing to stay or being stuck in place.5 Australia’s long-term decline in internal migration intensity may also be partly due to changes in the age distribution of the population, and this may continue to have an impact on intensity as Australia’s population continues to age.6

Who is moving?

Younger people are more likely to move, with one third of people aged 20-29 having changed their address in the last year at the 2016 Census.7 This age group coincides with key life events, such as higher education and labour force entry, which may require people to move.8

Age distribution of recent internal migrants 2016
This graph shows how the frequency of internal migration varies by age. Internal migration is most common for those in their mid-to-late 20s, with the frequency of internal migration gradually declining with age. The infographic includes life events that may happen at certain ages to help explain the shape of the curve. The labelled life events are: higher education entry and exit, labour force entry, partnership formation, first childbearing, job change, children leaving home, retirement, and moving to intuitions.

Source: ABS, 2016, Census of Population and Housing; A. Bernard et al, 2014, Life-Course Transitions and the Age Profile of Internal Migration.

Other groups that are more likely to move include:

  • Overseas migrants are more mobile than the Australian born population (18 per cent compared with 14 per cent). Migrants that have arrived recently are more likely to move internally, with migrants becoming less mobile the longer they have been in Australia.9
  • Renters are more likely to move than people who own their own home (26 per cent compared with 7.5 per cent).10

1 - BITRE, 2011, Spatial trends in Australian population and movement, Report 122, Canberra.

2 - Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2020, Migration, Australia 2018-19, Canberra.

3 - Department of the Treasury and Department of Home Affairs, 2018, Shaping a Nation, Canberra.

4 - ABS, 2017, Census: younger people more likely to make a move, Media release: 132/2017, Canberra.

5 - Kalemba, S et al, 2020, Decline in internal migration levels in Australia: Compositional or behavioural effect?, Population, Space and Place, Vol. 26, Issue 4.

6 - Charles-Edwards, E et al, 2018, Population Shift: Understanding Internal Migration in Australia, ABS Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census 2016, Canberra.

7 - ABS 2017, Census: younger people more likely to make a move, Media release: 132/2017, Canberra.

8 - ABS 2016 Census of Population and Housing; A. Bernard et al Life-Course Transitions and the Age Profile of Internal Migration 2014.

9 - Charles-Edwards, E et al, 2018, Population Shift: Understanding Internal Migration in Australia, ABS Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census 2016, Canberra.

10 - Charles-Edwards, E et al, 2018, Population Shift: Understanding Internal Migration in Australia, ABS Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census 2016, Canberra.