Table of Contents

GEODATE

Volume 33, Issue 1, March 2020

GEODATE

Volume 33, Issue 1, March 2020

POPULATION DISTRIBUTION IN AUSTRALIA

Associate Professor Santosh Jatrana, James Cook University

Population distribution describes the spatial pattern of where people live or how the population is distributed, or spread in an area. The population distribution in a country is an important issue as it influences socioeconomic and administrative planning such as service provision, economic performance, determining electoral constituencies and making population projections.

One of the most important aspects of Australia’s population is its uneven distribution across a diverse range of places, from large metropolitan cities to isolated, remote locations. There are some places such as rural and remote Australia, which are virtually ‘demographic deserts’ with sparse population and few people. On the other hand, there are places such as metropolitan cities and urban areas, which are densely populated and contain many people. Between 2006 and 2016, Australia’s population grew by 2.7 million people. As the population grows, its distribution and composition changes. In Australia, the proportion of indigenous people also affects distribution of population. The Indigenous status of a person is determined by his or her response to the ABS Standard Indigenous Question, which asks whether each person is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. The term ‘origin’ when used in the context of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Standard Indigenous Question, relates to a person’s Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent and for some, but not all, their cultural identity. Torres Strait Islanders are the descendants of the Indigenous people of the Torres Strait, between the tip of Cape York and Papua New Guinea (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016).

The uneven distribution of population in Australia can largely be explained by some geographical factors and some social, demographic, political and historical factors. However, these factors act in totality and not individually. While at some places, natural or geographical factors play a dominant role, in others, cultural factors are more prominent in determining the concentration of population in an area, particularly that of the composition of people living in a particular area.

Population distribution

In 2016, Australia’s population reached 23.4 million people, an increase of 8.8% since 2011 (Table 1). The majority of Australians continue to live in the eastern mainland states. Almost 80% lived in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory both in 2011 and in 2016. New South Wales remains the most populous state, with 7,480,228 people followed by Victoria (5,926,624 people) and Queensland (4,703,193).The number of people living in all states and territories has increased since the 2011 Census. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) experienced the largest population growth of any state or territory over the past five years, adding more than 40,000 new residents—an increase of 11.2%. Victoria (10.7%) and Western Australia (10.5%) followed this. Tasmania had the smallest growth at 3.0%.

In 2016, more than two-thirds of Australians lived in a capital city. Between 2011 and 2016 Censuses, the number of people living in capital cities grew nearly twice as fast as the number of people living outside of capital cities (10.5% and 5.7% respectively). Sydney remained the largest city in Australia, growing by an average of 1,656 people per week between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses, followed by Melbourne, which is growing by an average of 1,859 people per week over the same period (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017).

In the 2016 Census, there were 649,171 people across Australia who identified as being Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander origin, comprising 2.8% of the total population- an increase of 18% since the 2011 Census, when they made up 2.5% of Australia’s total population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017). In 2016 (and in the previous census since 2006), most Indigenous people lived in New South Wales (33%), Queensland (28%), Western Australia (12%) and the Northern Territory (9%). While the proportions of people from Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander origin increased slightly in New South Wales (from 29% in 2006 to 33% in 2016) and Victoria (6% in 2006 to 7.4% in 2016), there was a slight decline in Western Australia from 15.1% in 2006 to 11.7% in 2016 and Northern Territory from 12.9% in 2006 to 9.0% in 2016. Their proportions in other states and territory remained almost unchanged (Table 2).

Indigenous Australians comprise only a small percentage of the total population in the states and the Australian Capital Territory. In the Northern Territory, in contrast, almost one in three people are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2006 and one in every four in 2016 (Table 2, 4th Column and 7th Column, 2006 and 2017 respectively).

Distribution of population by remote areas and indigenous status

The distribution of population varied considerably across states and territories by Remoteness Areas. Remoteness Area (RA) is a structure of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) and provides a geographical standard for the publication of statistics about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018). This structure is produced by dividing each state and territory into five classes of remoteness based on the physical distance by road to the nearest urban centre. The five classes of remoteness are:

  • Major Cities of Australia

  • Inner Regional Australia

  • Outer Regional Australia

  • Remote Australia

  • Very Remote Australia

In 2016, around 70% of people lived in major cities. A majority of people, of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin (81%) and non-indigenous people (98%) as well, lived in non-remote areas of Australia. Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to be living in non-remote areas, they made up a greater proportion of the remote (25%) than non-remote (2%) population (Table 3). While over the past decade, there was an increase in people of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin living in major cities and inner regional areas and an associated reduction in people living in outer regional and remote areas, they are still more likely than other Australians to live outside of major cities. In 2016, 37 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in major cities, which was much less than the proportion living in major cities for other Australians (73%). A further 24 per cent and 20 per cent lived in inner or outer regional areas respectively. Almost 1 in 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in remote (6%) and very remote (12%) areas while around 1 in 100 non-Indigenous Australians lived in these areas (1% and 0.4% respectively) (Table 4).

Distribution of population by remote areas and indigenous status across States and territories

The distribution of population living in each of the Remoteness Areas varied considerably across the states and territories and by indigenous status. Across most states and territories, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were less likely to live in major cities and inner regional areas than other Australians and more likely to live in remote or very remote areas (Table 5 and Table 6).

After the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria (50% and 51.8% in 2006 and 2016 respectively) and South Australia (49% in 2006 and 51.9% in 2016 respectively) had the highest proportion of Indigenous people living in Major Cities, followed by New South Wales (43% in 2006 and 46.4% in 2016). In contrast, 79% of Indigenous people from the Northern Territory lived in Remote and Very Remote areas combined in 2006.The corresponding figures for 2016 is 78.2%. Similarly, in Western Australia a relatively high proportion of Indigenous people lived in Remote and Very Remote areas (42% combined in 2006 and 38% in 2016).

In New South Wales and Queensland, where most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live, most people lived in major cities or regional areas. However, the remote and very remote population for both states was larger for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than other Australians (3% for New South Wales and 17% for Queensland). More than half (58%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of the Northern Territory lived in very remote areas compared to 6 per cent of the non-Indigenous population.

While a quarter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia lived in very remote areas, most (40%) lived in major cities. In contrast, 80 per cent of the non-Indigenous population lived in major cities and 2 per cent lived in very remote areas.

Demographic characteristics

Sex composition

Women have continued to outnumber men since 1981, making up 51% of the population in 2016. The sex ratio (the number of males per 100 females) for all greater capital cities combined (98.3 males per 100 females) was slightly lower than for the rest of Australia (98.6 males per 100 females) at June 2018 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019). Women outnumbered men in Major Cities and Inner Regional areas, but the reverse was true in very remote areas where the highest ratio of males to females occurred. This may reflect the types of industries common in Very Remote areas, such as agriculture and mining, which tend to be dominated by men. Adelaide had the lowest sex ratio of all capital cities (96.7 males per 100 females), while Darwin had the highest (110.9 males per 100 females). Darwin was the only capital city where males outnumbered females.

Age composition

The median age (the age at which half the population is older and half the population is younger) of all Australians increased to 38 years in 2016, after remaining 37 years since the 2006 Census, reflecting Australia has an ageing population. This is also highlighted by the increase in the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over, from 14% in 2011 to 16% in 2016 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017). The proportion of the population that is female increased with age. Of those aged 65 years and over, 54% are female, compared to 63% of those aged 85 years and over. The median age of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was 23 years in 2016, compared with 38 years for non-indigenous people (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017a). While considerably lower than the wider population, it has increased from 21 years in 2011. The Northern Territory had the highest median age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both 2011 and 2016 (23 years and 25 years respectively). In 2016, New South Wales and Queensland had the lowest median age (22 years) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017a). The age profile of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait population varied only slightly between the states and territories.Queensland had the highest proportion of children aged under 15 years (35%). Tasmania had the highest proportion of older persons aged 65 years and over (6%).

Looking forward, all capital cities are projected to experience higher growth in population (in percentage terms) than the respective balance of each state and territory, resulting in further concentration of Australia’s population within the capital cities.

Student activities

1. Access the Australian Bureau of Statistics website https://www.abs.gov.au/ and using a Table Builder tool, build a table to show the distribution of population by age and sex for various states and territories of Australia.

2. Define the following terms:

  1. Population distribution

  2. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin

  3. Remoteness Area (RA)

  4. Sex Ratio

3. Suggest reasons for the differences in patterns of population distribution by capital cities and regional and remote Australia.

4. a) Describe the differences in patterns of population distribution by indigenous status.

b) Suggest reasons for the patterns identified in your answer to question 4a.

5. Compare and contrast the impact of human and physical factors on the pattern of population distribution in Australia.

6. Discuss the impacts of a shift in population distribution towards capital cities.

7. Suggest how an ageing population structure might affect the population distribution in Australia in the future.

Table 1 : Population by states and territories, 2011 and 2016 Census

State or territory2011 ‘0002011% total
population
2016 ‘0002016 % total
population
% change 2011
-2016
New South Wales6 917.632.27 480.232.08.1
Victoria5 354.024.95 926.625.310.7
Queensland4 332.720.14 703.220.18.6
South Australia1 596.57.41 676.67.25.0
Western Australia2 239.210.42 474.410.610.5
Tasmania (a)495.32.3510.02.23.0
Northern Territory (b)211.91.0228.81.08.0
Australian Capital Territory357.21.7397.332.011.2
Australia (c)21 507.7100.023 401.8100.08.8

Source: ABS 2011 and 2016 estimated Resident Population

Table 2: Distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Status Population by states and territory, 2006 and 2016 (a)

 2006
Aboriginal
and Torres
Strait
Islander
‘000
2006
Proportion
of total
indigenous
population
2006
Aboriginal
and Torres
Strait
Islander as
a proportion
of state/
territory
2016
Aboriginal
and Torres
Strait
Islander
‘000
2016
Proportion
of total
indigenous
population
2016
Aboriginal
and Torres
Strait
Islander as
a proportion
of state/
territory
State or territoryTotal(%)(%)Total(%)(%)
New South Wales148.228.72.2216.133.32.9
Victoria30.86.00.647.77.40.8
Queensland146.428.33.6186.428.74.0
South Australia26.05.01.734.15.32.0
Western Australia77.915.13.875.911.73.1
Tasmania (a)16.93.33.423.53.64.6
Northern Territory (b)66.612.931.658.29.025.5
Australian Capital Territory4.00.81.26.51.01.6
Australia (c)517.2100.02.5649.1100.02.8

Usual residence, excludes overseas visitors.

(b) Includes Other Territories, comprising Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, Migratory-Offshore-Shipping, and No Usual Address.

Note: Please note that there are small random adjustments made to all cell values to protect the confidentiality of data. These adjustments may cause the sum of rows or columns to differ by small amounts from table totals. For further information see Census of Population and Housing: Census Dictionary, 2016 (cat.no.2901.0). https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/2075.0Main%20Features52016

Source: ABS Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 9cat no. 4713.0) and 2016 cat no 2075.0

Table 3: Remoteness areas by indigenous status, 2016 (a)

 Non-remote Remote 
Count(%)Count(%)
Aboriginal and/or Torres
Strait Islander
526 0092.3119 59525.3
Non-Indigenous21 000 76691.8304 39464.3
Total Australia (b) (c)22 882 169100.0473 356100.0

(a) Usual residence, excludes overseas visitors.

(b) Includes Other Territories, comprising Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, Migratory-Offshore-Shipping, and No Usual Address.

(c) Includes Indigenous status Not Stated.

Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016

Table 4: Distribution of population by remoteness areas, 2016 (a)

 Aboriginal and/or Torres
Strait Islander
Non-Indigenous
Remoteness AreaCount of
Persons
(no.)
Proportion of
Persons (%)
Count of
Persons
(no.)
Proportion of
Persons (%)
Major Cities242 52937.415 495 76872.6
Inner Regional155 60224.03 809 56917.9
Outer Regional127 87419.71 695 4307.9
Remote Australia40 2106.2211 2691.0
Very Remote Australia79 38312.293 1270.4
Total Australia (b)649 171100.021 341 231100.0

(a) Usual residence, excludes overseas visitors.

(b) Includes Other Territories, comprising Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, Migratory-Offshore-Shipping, and No Usual Address.

Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016

Table 5: Distribution of Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander Population across State and Territory by Remoteness Areas, 2016

 Major citiesInner
regional
Outer
regional
RemoteVery remoteTotal
State or Territory(%)(%)(%)(%)(%)(%)
New South Wales46.434.415.32.60.9100.0
Victoria51.834.912.60.1..100.0
Queensland33.822.226.55.911.1100.0
South Australia51.910.722.03.810.8100.0
Western Australia39.87.713.712.725.3100.0
Tasmania (a)..56.240.72.10.8100.0
Northern Territory (b)....20.520.757.5100.0
Australian Capital Territory99.30.2......100.0
Australia (c)37.424.0 (20.9)19.7 (21.9)6.2 (9.6)12.2 (15.8)100.0

(a) Usual residence, excludes overseas visitors.

(b) Includes Other Territories, comprising Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, Migratory-Offshore-Shipping, and No Usual Address.

..Not Applicable

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018)

Table 6: Distribution of Non-Indigenous Population across State and Territory by Remoteness Areas, 2016

 Major citiesInner
regional
Outer
regional
RemoteVery remoteTotal
State or Territory(%)(%)(%)(%)(%)(%)
New South Wales75.918.35.30.30.0100.0
Victoria77.418.53.90.1..100.0
Queensland64.719.813.31.20.7100.0
South Australia74.212.89.92.50.5100.0
Western Australia79.48.77.02.91.7100.0
Tasmania (a)..68.329.61.40.5100.0
Northern Territory (b)....74.718.26.1100.0
Australian Capital Territory99.70.2......100.0
Australia (c)72.617.97.91.00.4100.0

(a) Usual residence, excludes overseas visitors.

(b) Includes Other Territories, comprising Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, Migratory-Offshore-Shipping, and No Usual Address.

..Not Applicable

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018)

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016).Census of Population and Housing: Census Dictionary, 2016, cat.no.2901.0. ABS. Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017).Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia- Stories from the Census, 2016. ABS. Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017a).Census of Population and Housing- Counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian, 2016, cat.no.2075.0. ABS. Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018).Census of Population and Housing- Counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australans, 2016, Cat.no.2075.0. ABS. Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019).Regional Population by Age and Sex, Australia, 2018, cat.no.3235.0 ABS. Canberra.