The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) population data has arrived, highlighting the impacts of COVID-19 on our population. Referencing the September 2020 quarter, this is one of the first releases from the ABS that provides a clear picture of Australia in the wake of COVID-19. Between June and September 2020, Australia experienced a population decline of -0.02%. This is the first quarterly population decline since World War 1.

Growth impacted by border restrictions

The restriction of international borders in March 2020 limited the number of international arrivals and departures. This has had a large impact on Australia’s net overseas migration (arrivals minus departures), which has been a major contributor to population growth.
Over the last decade, migration has been a larger proportion of population growth than natural increase (births minus deaths). Between 2010 and 2019, more than half of Australia’s annual population growth has been a result of net overseas migration. In 2017 and 2019, migration numbers reached as high as 63% of Australia’s annual growth.

In the year ending September 2020, this trend has been reversed. Natural increase accounted for 61% of population growth and migration accounted for 39%. Numerically, however, there has been little to no change in the total number of births and deaths (natural increase).

This shift in the proportion of natural increase and net overseas migration is driven by the large reduction in migration numbers as a result of border restrictions (85,097 in 2020 cf. 232,055 in 2019). This has led to a slow-down in Australia’s population growth. Annual growth in year ending September 2020 is 42% lower than the same period the year prior (220,531 in 2020 cf. 382,828 in 2019).

The projected future recovery

Based on analysis by the Centre for Population, the impacts of COVID-19 are expected to be long lasting. Australia’s population in 2031 is estimated to be 4% smaller (1,136,300) than it would have been in the absence of COVID-19.



Despite this, Australia’s trajectory of population growth is projected to continue, with the population expected to reach 26 million by 2023, and 28 million by 2029.

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