Cast your mind back to the early 1990s — Australia was in the midst of the recession that we had to have, Paul Keating (who coined the phrase) was the Prime Minister, grunge ruled the music industry and there was no Internet.
Australia’s population was 18.2 million, growing by around 1.1% on average in the first half of the 1990s.
Compare this with the 1.6% recorded in 2016-17, and though it may not seem like a huge difference, there’s little doubt that the population discourse is now centred around the rapid growth in Australia’s largest cities and the challenges this creates.
However, population growth is not spread evenly, and the state of Victoria illustrates this well.
It’s a great example of a place where the population dynamics have completely turned around in the course of little more than two decades — from slow growth to woah growth.
Population growth in Victoria during the 1990s.
The early 1990s recession hit Victoria hard both economically and socially.
Job losses in the manufacturing sector and crises in the banking sector had ramifications through the economy.
The unemployment rate was above 10% from June 1991 to October 1994.
Between 1991-96, thepopulation growth rate averaged 0.5%.
In the 12 months ended June 1994, just 10,200 people were added to the population.
This was driven by a high level of migration out of the State, reaching almost 30,000.
To put this in perspective, that is the equivalent of losing a town around the size of Warrnambool.
The economy slowly recovered in the second half of the decade and population growth increased, averaging 1.0% over the period 1996-2001.
Population growth in Victoria, 2016-17
Twenty or so years later it’s a completely different picture.
In 2016-17, Victoria was by far and away the fastest growing State in Australia, recording growth of 2.3% in 2016-17, or more than 144,300 people.
Growth was driven by both migration from overseas and interstate, as well as natural increase (births minus deaths).
About 60% of growth was attributable to net overseas migration.
That Victoria gained more than 17,000 people from other parts of Australia is a huge turnaround for a state that has traditionally lost population through interstate migration.
In fact, the gain of 17,100 was only just surpassed by Queensland’s gain of 17,430 — Queensland of course a state that has a long tradition of gaining population through interstate migration.
Where is population growth occurring in Victoria?
Population growth in Victoria is spatially concentrated and generally reflects long standing trends.
Greater Melbourne grew by 2.7% during 2016-17, representing more than 125,000 people or 86% of Victoria’s total population growth.
At June 2017 Melbourne’s population was 4,850,740 and at the current rate of growth the 5 million milestone will likely be hit before the decade is over.
The map below shows the population growth rate by LGA in Victoria during 2016-17.
Areas with darker blue shading grew strongly, whereas those shaded red lost population over that time.
The LGA that recorded the highest growth rate in Victoria was the City of Melbourne (8.1%), or almost 12,000 people.
This reflects the construction of a large number of apartment buildings in and around the city, and also the high level of overseas migration.
Many overseas migrants are students and other young people who move to the city and surrounds to access education, employment and lifestyle opportunities.
Other strong growing LGAs (more than 4%) were located on the Melbourne metropolitan fringe and this reflects trends that have been occurring for a number of years.
Wyndham continues its rapid growth, recording a growth rate of 6.1%, or 13,810 persons to reach a population of 241,900.
The urban footprint of Wyndham continues to expand north and west, with several new housing estates under construction in Tarneit and Truganina.
Cardinia and Melton also grew strongly (both 5.0%), followed by Casey (4.4%) and Hume (4.1%).
Casey is Victoria’s largest LGA in terms of population size, and its growth rate of 4.4% represents an increase of 13,860 persons — slightly more than faster growing Wyndham.
The fastest growing LGAs in regional Victoria were generally located around the Melbourne metropolitan perimeter or along the coast.
Surf Coast, located south west of Geelong and incorporating rapidly growing towns such as Torquay, grew by 2.9%.
Much of this growth is located in the northern part of the Shire, adjacent to the Geelong metropolitan area and with good access to that job market.
Baw Baw and Mitchell both grew by 2.8%, both areas containing greenfield development opportunities that attract families seeking relatively affordable housing in a semi-rural environment but with access to the Melbourne employment market.
What areas are losing population?
There were no LGAs in metropolitan Melbourne that lost population in 2016-17.
Frankston, Knox and Nillumbik all grew by less than 1%.
All are established suburban areas with few opportunities for larger greenfield developments, and Nillumbik’s development is also constrained by topographical and environmental issues.
It’s a different story in regional Victoria but the patterns of population change reflect long standing trends across rural areas of Australia.
Most LGAs in western and north western Victoria lost population in 2016-17, particularly those in dryland agricultural areas.
Of the 13 LGAs that recorded population loss, just two were located elsewhere in Victoria (Towong and Benalla).
Some of these LGAs have very small populations and so small shifts in population trends can have a disproportionate impact when expressed as a percentage.
For instance, the -1.3% decline in Buloke Shire represents 79 people.
The main driver of population loss in these areas is internal migration (more people moving out than in) and natural decrease (more deaths than births).
Victoria’s population is growing strongly, but it is not spread equally across the State.
Growth is concentrated in metropolitan Melbourne, particularly in the CBD and surrounds, and on the urban fringe.
It is driven by migration from interstate and overseas, as well as natural increase.
In regional Victoria, LGAs in close proximity to Melbourne are also growing strongly, but those in dryland farming areas continue to lose population, primarily through out migration and natural decrease.
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