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sydney populations

Sydney lost more than 27,000 people last year to interstate migration. Courtesy:: Sam Mooy / News Limited

Sydney’s population growth has slowed due to high house prices and clogged suburbs, with Melbourne set to become Australia’s largest city.

Sydneysiders are fleeing the Harbour City in their tens of thousands every year, new data has showed.

A combination of high house prices, clogged suburbs and even the city’s poor night life are given as reasons driving people away.

Sydney’s population slowdown could see Melbourne streak past it to become the country’s largest city in just six years.

But at least Sydney is still growing, albeit slowly, chiefly off the back of overseas migration. One Australian capital has actually gone backwards and has found itself with less people than the year before.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) annual count of the population of the nation’s capitals has showed that the number of people living in the eight cities has grown by 307,800 in a year to around 17 million. That accounts for two thirds of the country’s total population.

At the end of 2017/18 Sydney had a population of 5.2 million. Still the largest city but its growth is now being outstripped by Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.

Melbourne now has 4.9 million residents. Its growth rate of 2.5 per cent easily exceeds Sydney’s 1.8 per cent.

However, in terms of sheer numbers, Sydney added the second highest number of new residents at 93,400 people.

Drill down into the figures and established residents are draining out of the Sydney.

In a graph, the ABS split the population change in each city


Macquarie University demographer Professor Nick Parr told a good chunk of those leaving Sydney were aged between 25-34 with young children.

“Life cycle stage, job opportunities outside Sydney and how income compares to housing costs are factors.

“Having a family may change priorities, for example Sydney’s night-life becomes less important and owning a home with a back yard and more space more important,” he said.

“There is a pattern of those who have moved out of Sydney working in jobs with middle incomes. Relatively few earn over $1000 per week. It may be that people with these middle-level incomes are able to afford house purchases outside Sydney but not in Sydney.”

Mr Parr said Melbourne was a popular port of call for displaced Sydney residents because it offered a similar jobs market but had lower living costs, even if it’s still more expensive than smaller cities.

“For ICT workers looking to move out of Sydney, the job opportunities in this field are far more extensive in Melbourne than elsewhere in Australia, even on a per head basis,” said Mr Parr.

Tyson Koh, founded of the Keep Sydney Open party, told last month that the city’s reputation as a wowser city including the lockout laws and petty rules and regulations was turning potential residents away.

“[People] come to Sydney to soak up the beauty but we’ve heard in many cases they don’t want to return because they are being watched by Big Brother all the time”.

into three categories — overseas migration, internal migration and natural increase, essentially new births.

It was on the second measure that Sydney was falling down. The graph showed a net 27,400 people left Sydney for other states in 2017/18. It was by far the biggest internal migration slump of any capital.

But this was counteracted by Sydney’s healthy birthrate and its attractiveness as a destination to live for people from overseas. This led to there being a net 77,100 new Sydneysiders.

In contrast, Melbourne had healthy rates of growth in all categories bolstering its population by almost 119,000 people with 5 per cent of that intra-Australia migration.

If both Melbourne and Sydney maintain their current trends, the Victorian capital will overtake Sydney’s population by 2025.

“It’s likely, bit not inevitable,” said Prof Parr.

He pointed out the example of Perth which has gone from having the second largest number of interstate migrants to the second largest number abandoning the city following the passing of the peak of the mining boom.

“Between 1991 and 1995 Victoria lost more people to interstate than any other change.

“None of this is to say that the recent volatility of growth in WA or historical volatility of growth in Victoria will re occur. However, few if any would have predicted these changes.”

But it was Brisbane that saw the most new migrants from within Australia which accounted for a third of its 50,000 increase in residents.

Australians are also losing the love for Perth and Adelaide. In the South Australian capital 4800 births were more than offset by 5100 people deserting the city. But both places saw more than enough overseas migration to make up for the shortfall.


Poor Darwin though — whatever way you slice it, its population fell. The number of people leaving the Territory capital exceeded births and overseas migration leading to a net loss of 360 people overall.

The figures are a worry for the NT Government which spent $2m last year on a campaign to attract more residents to Darwin.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner acknowledged the figures were a concern but said the small number could be due to one off losses of employment. He cited job cuts at the Inpex gas project.

“This is a concern. 10,000 workers off the Index site obviously added to it.

“Half of those were fly-in fly-out, but a significant chunk of those jobs were locals,” the ABreported him as saying.

“We’ve got to make sure we address our population issues.”

The data also looked at the areas with the largest numbers of new residents, the top four of which were in Melbourne and Sydney.

Cranbourne East in Melbourne topped the list with 7300 new residents in a year. Riverstone-Marsden Park in Sydney’s west and Leppington in the city’s south west absorbed 5000 and 4500 further residents respectively while Melbourne’s CBD squeezed in 3800 new people.

Melbourne’s CBD is also now the most densely populated area of Australia with 20,700 people per sqkm. That’s followed by two Sydney CBD fringe neighbourhoods: Potts Point — Woolloomooloo with 16,600 per sqkm and Pyrmont — Ultimo with 16,500.