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Emerging Australian demographic trends

By Bernard Salt - posted Tuesday, 15 May 2001

Australians have a grassroots interest in demographic trends. They have this interest and concern about how we are settling the continent.

The Gold Coast remains the No.1 growth area in the nation. The new Population Growth report due out in June shows the region has added 13,000 in the 2000 financial year, which means $90 million in new retail spending dumped in the area in a single year.

The Top 10 list of growth areas usually comprises the beach and the 'burbs. But the City of Melbourne is now in position No.7, ranking it among the fastest growing areas in the country. This is the "downtown turnaround", a value shift by Australians to embrace the inner city.


One of the trends we have seen is the marginalisation of the Australian wheatbelt - long-term population erosion with people leaving those areas. Dubbo, which has grown 58% since 1976, is surrounded by areas of population loss. Dubbo is a de facto capital city. It has out-paced Australia and has stronger increases in every single age group. But Warren near Dubbo has lost 13% of its population base - every single age group up to the age of 34 has reduced.

The cities growing 2-3-4-5-6% a year are places by the coast - tourism-based, retirement-based, lifestyle-based. The other end of the chart might as well be another planet - they're all southern, cold, inland, manufacturing-based cities and towns.

Nowhere is this concept of two Australias demonstrated more than in a comparison of Hervey Bay and Junee. In 1971 both had about 5,000 people. In 2000 Junee still had 5,000 (it has flatlined for 30 years) but Hervey Bay is now 45,000. Hervey Bay is the most remarkable town on the Australian continent in terms of its population growth - because of a value shift in the nation in the 1980s. It was more than retirement and tourism, it was a new strain of tourism that emerged - eco-tourism, based on Fraser Island, and whale-watching.

The push from the bush is shown in the latest report: rural and regional areas grew 4,000; inner-city areas grew 16,000 and metropolitan suburbia grew 145,000. There hasn't been an inland growth area in Australia in the past 25 years.

The shift downturn: the net increase in population for the year ending June 2000 for inner-city areas, areas within a 5km radius of the GPO, was 16,000 - primarily Melbourne (7,300), Sydney (5,000) and Brisbane (2,500). I believe this momentum will continue for the next decade. Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Hobart are not plugged into the shift to inner-city apartment living yet.

We can take this trend back to about 1993. For 100 years Australia pushed to suburbia and then in 1992/1993 we stopped dead in our tracks and started to move back - as part of a value shift. Eventually it gained a momentum of its own. Since 1992 Sydney has gained almost 18,000 new residents in its city centre, South Sydney 17,000, Melbourne 17,700, Port and South Melbourne 7,500, Brisbane 7,000 (including Fortitude Valley and New Farm), North Sydney 7,200.


The most densely populated place in Australia is Kings Cross, with a density of 33,000 people per square kilometre. By comparison, Manhattan Island has 58,000 per sq. km. The least densely populated area of Australia is an area of 330,000 sq. km in Western Australia with just 340 people living there.

Baby boomers just won't die! Baby boomers numbered one million in 1951, two million in 1956, three million in 1961 and 4.1 million today. Right now, numerically, they are at their strength. The last of them was born 40 years ago. This is largely our immigration program - we imported young people.

The 1996 Census showed that most people make it to the highest-income group at the age of 49. So we spend 49 years getting there and then we die!

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This is an edited version of a speech given to the Cities For The New Economy Leadership Summit at the Marriott Hotel, Surfers Paradise, 23-24 April 2001.

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About the Author

Bernard Salt is a partner of KPMG and publisher of the annual "Population Growth" reports.

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