Recently released data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that to June 2013 the rate of population growth in capital cities was significantly greater than that of regional markets.

The ABS recently released data on regional population growth for the 12 months to June 2013. Over the year, Australia's population increased by 1.8% with capital city regions recording population growth of 2.1% over the year compared to a 1.2% annual increase in regional population.

As the first chart shows, from 1995 onwards capital city populations have consistently increased at a faster rate than those in regional areas. In June 1991, 64.6% of all Australian’s lived within a capital city and by June 2013 the proportion had risen to 66.3%.


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Focussing on the major capital cities over time, see chart 2, Brisbane consistently showed the fastest population growth rate between 1992 and 2006. Over that period, the city’s population increased by more than 470,000 persons. From 2006 to 2013, Perth had consistently recorded the fastest rate of population growth with a total population increase of 395,000 persons over that period.


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Between 1991 and 2013, Sydney has added an additional 1,084,169 residents, Melbourne has added 1,153,248 residents followed by 826,621 in Brisbane, 198,141 in Adelaide and 746,243 in Perth. In raw number terms the increase in population has been much greater in Melbourne and Sydney than in the other major capital cities.

Between 1991 and 2013 Regional Queensland was the only regional market to record a greater increase in population than within the capital city. Over the period, Brisbane's population increased by a total of 826,621 persons compared to a 869,231 increase in Regional Queensland’s population. The surge in population across Regional Queensland is linked to the growth in those markets directly adjacent to Brisbane (The Gold and Sunshine Coasts). Regional Queensland’s population has also grown significantly due to the ‘sea change’ phenomenon which has seen significant migration (and development) along Queensland coastal communities.

Almost two thirds (66.3%) of all Australian’s live within a capital city up from 64.6% in 1991. It appears that most Australian’s are showing an ongoing preference to live in capital cities rather than regional markets. When you consider the concentration of jobs across the nation, most are found in capital cities and the majority of these jobs are found in just a handful of these capital cities.


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As at June 2013, almost two out of every five Australian’s (39.4%) lived in either Sydney or Melbourne. The proportion of Australian’s living in Sydney or Melbourne has fallen slightly from 1991 (39.7%) and this is largely due to the rising prominence of Brisbane and Perth as population centres. In 1991, 21.3% of Australian’s lived in Sydney, 18.5% in Melbourne, 8.2% in Sydney and 7.1% in Perth. By 2013, 20.6% of Australian’s lived in Sydney, 18.8% in Melbourne, 9.7% in Brisbane and 8.5% in Perth. Despite the declining prominence of Sydney, the proportion of Australian’s living within our four largest cities has increased from 55.0% in 1991 to 57.6% currently.

Darwin was the only other capital city in which the proportion of national population increased over the period, shifting from 0.5% in 1991 to 0.6% in 2013. Adelaide has recorded the largest decline in its population share over the period, falling from 6.3% of the national population in 1991 to 5.6% in 2013.

Sydney and Melbourne continue to be the most significant population centres however, Melbourne is catching Sydney quite quickly. In 1991, 3,672,914 persons lived in Sydney and 3,194,707 in Melbourne, a gap of 478,207 persons. By 2013, the gap had reduced to 409,128 persons.

The rising prominence of Brisbane and Perth as population centres has really emerged over recent years. Obviously the resources sector boom has driven this to some extent with escalating demand for professionals working and associated with this sector. With home values rising at a much faster rate in Sydney and in Melbourne than in other capital cities it will be interesting to see over the coming years if we begin to see an outflow of population from Sydney and Melbourne to other capital cities where housing is more affordable and attainable for the typical buyer. Of course a key driver of any shift away from Sydney and Melbourne will be providing well paid jobs and a high quality of life while ensuring that housing remains relatively more affordable than it is within Sydney and Melbourne.

Article by RP Data senior research analyst, Cameron Kusher