A couple of weeks ago, the ABS released its annual estimated resident population figures for the country. The following figure shows the fastest growing LGAs in terms of the estimated population change from 2015 to 2016. Many of these areas have been among the fastest growing LGAs over the last decade and many benefit from the significant, existing size and capacity to facilitate population increases. Just about all of these areas are either capital cities themselves or part of a capital city region, which demonstrates a continuation of a national population shift to the cities.
Interestingly, the rankings change a bit if we consider the population growth from 2015 to 2016 as percentage growth from 2015 (Figure 2). While some of the fastest growing LGAs in terms of estimated resident increase are featured here as well, there are numerous smaller LGAs located around more outlying areas of capital cities. The reason naturally for this is that these areas are also benefiting from the general trend of population growth in capital city regions and they have a smaller base population, which combined delivers a strong annual growth rate. There are also a few regional areas of very small populations that have seen dramatic increases in population (as a % of total), however, these areas have a very small population base, so a relatively minor increase can be large in terms of a percentage.
What these figures do not show is another general population trend, which is that large regional centres (such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Townsville, Toowoomba, Wagga Wagga, Albury, etc.) continue to grow, often attracting new residents from surrounding, smaller shires.
Population growth is important to economic development for a number of reasons. Roughly a third of the economy is directly influenced by population (think retail, healthcare, education, etc.) so as the population increases so too will these sectors. New residents to an area can also drive activity in the construction sector (for new houses) and numerous others. For local governments, population increases also mean a required increased in services.
Population growth (or decline) can also be a flow-on indicator of the economic health of an area. As local economies grow (or contract) they will encourage migration either into or out of the community. Many of the mining communities in regional Australia that experienced tremendous population growth during the mining investment boom have also experience considerable population decline over recent years.
Because of its importance for economic development, we must be mindful of population trends. However, at the same time, we must recognise that these figures are estimates, particularly for 2016 as this was also a Census year. The ABS will adjust the estimated resident population figures later this year, so will be interesting to see how close their estimates were.