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In late March the ABS released the 2020 regional population estimates (ERP).
This data shows some signs of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on population trends at a more local level.
In this blog I look at Victoria, a state that has recorded substantial growth in recent years.
Was this trend sustained in 2019-2020?
And what has happened at a more local level?
Read on to find out.
Impacts of COVID-19 on regional population estimates
It’s important to note that this data refers to 2019-2020 ie year ended June 2020.
For most of this year, it was “business as usual” in terms of population change.
It was only after March 2020 that COVID-19 had an impact due to the closure of the international border to non-citizens.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, this has effectively put a stop to overseas migration, which has been a major driver of growth in Australia’s cities.
Victoria’s population in 2020
At June 2020, the population of Victoria was almost 6.7 million.
This was an increase of 1.5% over the previous year and equated to growth of almost 100,000 persons.
The volume of growth in Victoria was the highest of all states and territories.
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Despite the closure of the international border in March, the growth rate recorded was still higher than the national average of 1.3%.
Only Queensland (1.6%) recorded a higher growth rate, and Western Australia also recorded 1.5% growth.
Most of Victoria’s population growth in 2019-20 was attributable to net overseas migration, which comprised 62% of the total.
This was despite a 28% decline in the volume of net overseas migration.
Natural increase (births minus deaths) accounted for a further 36% of growth, and the remainder was net interstate migration.
The latter recorded an 80% decline in volume between 2018-19 to 2019-20, from 12,200 to 2,240.
The decline in net migration from overseas and interstate represents a major shift in Victoria’s population dynamics compared to previous years.
The components of change are fundamental in describing how populations have grown.
That almost two-thirds of population growth in Victoria was attributable to net overseas migration in 2019-20 provides a strong indication of what might happen in 2020-21.
It is likely that Australia will record negative overseas migration in 2020-21.
For states like Victoria (and NSW) that grow mainly due to overseas migration, it’s possible that they may also record negative growth.
At the time of writing (April 2021) there is no indication when the international border will reopen to overseas migration, prolonging the impacts on population change.
The map below shows the population growth rate by LGA in Victoria for 2019-20.
Overall the basic spatial pattern shows little change from previous years, but there are some interesting shifts.
LGAs on Melbourne’s fringe continue to record some of the highest growth rates in the state, eg Wyndham (4.7%) and Melton (4.6%) but in 2019-20 some of the fastest growing LGAs were in regional Victoria.
These were typically located in the peri-urban area around Melbourne and in many cases are a continuation of recent trends.
Surf Coast Shire recorded growth of 3.9%, which ranks third in the state behind Wyndham and Melton.
This is not a new trend, as Surf Coast typically records strong growth due to its proximity to Geelong and Melbourne, as well as high amenity and opportunities for residential development.
Since 2004-05 the rate of population growth in Surf Coast has exceeded the Victorian average.
Other regional Victorian LGAs that recorded growth of 3% or more include Mitchell, Mansfield and Bass Coast.
Mitchell’s growth can be viewed in context of strong growth in greenfield housing estates around the towns of Wallan and Kilmore.
Again, this is not a new trend.
This growth is essentially an extension of the Melbourne urban area northwards along the Hume Freeway. Significant growth is planned for this area in the future.
The Victoria in Future population projections indicate a population of 97,688 in 2041, more than double the 2016 population.
Where is the population declining?
LGAs that recorded negative population growth in 2019-2020 were generally located in rural areas and are a continuation of patterns that are well established.
These LGAs are not greatly impacted by changing volumes of net overseas migration as population change is driven by natural increase and net internal migration.
West Wimmera (-0.8%), Yarriambiack, Gannawarra and Central Goldfields (all -0.7%) recorded the strongest rates of population decline in Victoria during 2019-20.
A new trend in 2019-20 is population decline in some Melbourne LGAs.
This has not occurred since 2010-11 and was headed by Brimbank, located in the western suburbs.
The rate of decline recorded was -0.6% (-1,321 persons).
This was driven by an increased level of net internal migration loss in conjunction with a lower level of net overseas migration.
Boroondara, located in the inner east, also recorded population loss (-0.1%).
In addition, a number of LGAs recorded very modest growth, including Greater Dandenong (0.1%), Nillumbik and Banyule (0.2%).
What’s happened in the last three years?
The table below shows the volume and rate of population change in the fastest growing LGAs in Victoria.
In 2019-20, there were 17 LGAs that grew by 2.0% or more and were a mix of urban, peri-urban and regional areas.
Wyndham retained its place as fastest growing LGA, measured by both volume and rate.
However, on both these measures there was a decline compared to the previous two years.
The same trend was recorded in other urban fringe LGAs such as Melton and Casey.
Growth via net internal migration and natural increase is still strong in these urban fringe LGAs.
Rapidly growing regional LGAs generally recorded an increase in the volume of growth in 2019-20.
This is supported by other ABS data which shows that Melbourne recorded a net loss of more than 15,000 people in the June and September 2020 quarters.
The media has been full of stories about people leaving the cities and settling in country towns, fuelling increased demand for housing in regional Australia.
The modest increase in the volume of growth in Surf Coast, Bass Coast, Mansfield and Baw Baw may give some credence to these reports, but these LGAs have grown strongly in recent years as they offer relatively affordable housing that is still accessible to Melbourne.
It will be interesting to see if these trends are sustained into the future.
Areas with larger greenfield development fronts such as Greater Geelong and Mitchell Shire also recorded a lower volume of growth in 2019-20 compared to the previous two years.
Some of this, particularly in Greater Geelong, was attributable to a lower volume of net overseas migration.
Nevertheless the growth rates recorded were still amongst the strongest in Victoria and reflect the demand for relatively affordable housing in these locations.
The City of Melbourne recorded a growth rate of 2.7% in 2019-2020, compared to 7.0% and 5.1% in the two years prior.
Although 2.7% is still twice the national average, the City is one of the areas to be most impacted by the loss of overseas migration.
Net overseas migration still drove population change here, but the volume declined by almost 40% compared to the previous year.
The CBD and surrounds are popular areas for international students to reside in, and as the rules currently stand, they are unable to enter the country.
It is highly likely that City of Melbourne will record negative growth in 2020-21 unless the volume of net internal migration and natural increase considerably.
Victoria’s population grew by 1.5% in 2019-20 to reach almost 6.7 million at June 2020.
Despite the closure of the international border, net overseas migration comprised 62% of population growth.
The fastest growing LGAs in Victoria are Wyndham and Melton, but their growth was more subdued than in previous years due to a lower level of net overseas migration.
Two LGAs in Greater Melbourne (Brimbank and Boroondara) recorded population decline.
Several LGAs in regional Victoria (Surf Coast, Mitchell, Mansfield and Bass Coast) recorded growth of more than 3%, and is largely a continuation of existing trends.
The closure of the international border will continue to impact population growth in Victoria, possibly well into 2022.