Australia is a highly urbanised nation with around two-thirds of the population living in a city. Population growth is concentrated in Australia’s major capital cities, with growth rates of 1.8 per cent between 2018 and 2019 being significantly higher in capital cities than in the rest of the nation (which grew by 1.0 per cent on average and had some areas experiencing population decline in 2018). Facilitating population growth features strongly within metropolitan planning strategies and infrastructure reports. Planning for Australia’s future population outlines the Australian government’s policy framework on supporting continuous population growth to facilitate to the development of a strong economy and cohesive society backed up through attracting skilled migrants.
The Brief on ‘Population’ refers to the population dynamics in Australia’s major capital cities, smaller and regional cities, the settlement of migrants and demographic changes in ageing and household formation. These policies are predicated upon an assumption of population growth, which depends to a large extent on Australia’s migration policy settings; the effect of closing Australia’s borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be significant.
Major capital cities
The three largest cities grew most between 2018 and 2019, with Melbourne’s estimated population reaching 5,078,193 in 2019 (a growth rate of 2.3%), Brisbane reached 2,514,184 (a growth rate of 2.1%) and Sydney reached 5,312,163 (a growth rate of 1.7%). Infrastructure Australia emphasises that population growth is an opportunity to enhance economic prosperity and liveability.
A current AHURI Inquiry is researching the key drivers of population growth and mobility in Australia; the effects of economic agglomeration on the productivity of cities; and urban governance frameworks that have been planning for, and responding to economic and population growth.
Regional and smaller cities
In contrast to fast growing major capital cities many smaller cities have lower population growth rates. While the population of Melbourne increased by 2.4 per cent in 2018, several urban areas, including Darwin, Geraldton and Rockhampton, experienced a decline in population. AHURI evidence has identified that the development of regional cities and their local economy is constrained by a lack of infrastructure and housing stock.
Infrastructure Australia emphasises the role of governments to facilitate further population growth in regions to ensure on-going economic prosperity. Regional communities and economies should be supported by long-term planning and coordinating government and private sector investment, such as in transport and telecommunications infrastructure to increase connectivity and access to jobs and services.
In 2019, overseas migration contributed to 62.5 per cent of Australia’s population growth. Overseas migration to and from Australia in 2018-19 resulted in a net increase to Australia's population of 239,600 people. Major capital cities are the main place for migrants to settle. The Western Australian strategy Perth and Peel@3.5million, acknowledge the contribution of skilled migrants to cities’ prosperity and cultural diversity.
However, the settlement of migrants features less extensively in urban policies but is rather addressed in more general population policies. ‘Planning for Australia’s future population’ highlights the role of permanent migrants in addressing skill shortages in the economy and offsetting the effects of an ageing population. The strategy seeks to manage population growth by redirecting migrants to settle in smaller cities and regions instead of major cities.
Demographic change: ageing and household formation
The demographic characteristics of Australia’s population are changing, based on a shifting composition of households and an ageing population. AHURI research shows that demographic changes in Australia, such as an accelerated ageing of the population and substantial decline in household formation rates and average household size, is impacting home ownership outcomes, in particular for younger age cohorts.
Metropolitan planning strategies focusing on urban consolidation and higher density residential developments are taking changing demographics into account. In connection to the built environment, city policies could address the provision of adequate housing, social infrastructure and urban amenity in accordance with changing household compositions and needs.