This section provides analysis on the Northern Territory's (NT) population, including population characteristics and key components of population growth such as natural increase (births and deaths), net interstate migration (NIM) and net overseas migration (NOM).
Background | Key facts | Population growth | Regional population | Aboriginal population l Explanatory notes
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provide quarterly estimates of resident populations (ERP) of Australia and the States and Territories. The ERP is based on the results of the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, updated quarterly using information on births, deaths, NIM and NOM.
Population data provides an overall picture of social trends and societal wellbeing, and its characteristics such as size, age, gender and migration patterns. These characteristics of population change are critical for service delivery and infrastructure planning.
The Department of Treasury and Finance provide quarterly population economic briefs about the NT’s resident population, and have developed population projections to the year 2046. The Northern Territory Population Growth Strategy 2018-2028 provides a framework for attracting people to the Territory, and encouraging those already here to stay for the long term.
The NT’s population of 247,023 persons accounts for about 1% of the Australian population, with the majority (60%) residing in the greater Darwin area, and the remainder dispersed over remote and very remote areas. At 30 June 2016 (ABS Census 2016), the Aboriginal population was estimated at 74,546, which represents about 30% of the Territory’s population, many of whom reside in remote and very remote areas.
The NT’s population is characterised by its young age profile, with a median age of 33.6 years compared with 37.8 years nationally . This reflects a large number of persons aged 25 to 34 years in the NT, as well as the NT’s large Aboriginal population which, based on ABS 2016 Census, had a median age of 26 years compared with 34.9 years for the non‑Aboriginal population (Chart 1).
A further characteristic of the NT’s population is males outnumber females 105.3 to 100, compared with 98.2 males for every 100 females nationally. This is partly due to the prevalence of male‑dominated industries such as mining, construction and defence, as well as the workforce demands of major projects.
Population growth in the NT is significantly more volatile than growth in the Australian population. Over the long term, the NT’s population growth has been predominantly driven by natural increase (births minus deaths) and NOM. Fluctuations in the Territory’s annual population growth rate are largely due to variations in interstate migration, which typically fluctuates with employment opportunities.
- The NT’s population was 247,023 persons at 31 March 2021
- The quarterly change was an increase of 570 persons (0.2%)
- In annual terms:
- NT’s population increased by 1,170 persons (0.5%) (Chart 2)
- natural increase contributed 2,642 persons to the NT’s population
- net interstate migration detracted 1,097 persons from the NT’s population
- net overseas migration detracted 375 persons to the NT’s population.
Natural increase is the difference between the number of births and deaths, illustrating population change in the absence of migration. Natural increase is the most stable component of the NT’s population growth, and has been the major driver of growth over the past 20 years.
In the year to March 2021:
- natural increase contributed 1.1 percentage points (ppt) to total population growth in the NT, double the national contribution of 0.5ppt (Chart 3). The greater contribution reflects a younger age profile and higher fertility (the average number of births per woman) in both the Aboriginal and non‑Aboriginal population. However, fertility is declining at a similar rate to the national trend as fewer women are having fewer babies
- natural increase rose by 8.1% to 2,642 persons, as births increased by 5.4% to 3,767 persons and deaths decreased by 0.5% to 1,125 persons.
Net interstate migration is highly volatile and tends to detract from NT population growth. Arrivals and departures to and from the NT are influenced by a range of factors including economic and labour market conditions, lifestyle, housing prices and location of family.
In the year to March 2021:
- net interstate migration detracted 0.4ppt from population growth in the NT
- the NT reported a net loss of 1,097 persons to other jurisdictions, a 67.6% improvement from the net loss of 3,387 persons in the previous year
- interstate arrivals increased by 4.3% to 14,351 persons while interstate departures decreased by 9.9% to 15,448 persons (Chart 4).
The ABS also provide annual preliminary data on internal migration movements between the jurisdictions and population characteristics.
- the NT's population had greater interstate mobility than any other jurisdiction, with an interstate migration rate of about 12% per annum (28,782 persons), compared with about 2% to 4% across most states (Chart 5)
- the NT reported a net outflow of 1,342 persons. Most other jurisdictions reported a net inflow for interstate migrants except for New South Wales and Victoria
- Queensland was the Territory's largest market for both arrivals and departures, accounting for 30% (8,521 persons) of all movers, followed by Victoria (5,616 persons) and New South Wales (5,275 persons)
- there were strong net outflows to Queensland (1,253 persons), Victoria (404 persons) and Western Australia (307 persons) recorded.
Migration to and from the NT varies by sex and age group. The largest cohorts moving in and out of the NT in a given year are generally those who are in their 20s and early 30s.
The Commonwealth’s permanent and temporary migration programs are fundamental to national population growth. Overseas migration generally contributes to the NT's population, although at a lower rate relative to the eastern seaboard states.
In the year to March 2021:
- net overseas migration detracted 0.2ppt from population growth in the NT
- the Territory reported a net loss of 375 persons, a decline of 136.2% compared to the net gain of 1,036 persons in the previous year, following the closure of Australia's international border in March 2020
- Australia reported a net decrease of 95,334 persons, a decline of 139.8% compared to the net gain of 239,245 persons in the previous year.
The ABS also provides annual preliminary results of international migration movements, disaggregated by arrivals and departures, for different migrant groups.
Prior to COVID-19, permanent and temporary migration visa streams were the main drivers of net overseas migration, contributing on average 900 persons per annum between 2016 and 2019, while Australian citizens and ‘other’ visa holders were the main detractors. Over this period, overseas migration was moderating though, falling from a peak of contributing 0.9ppt to growth in 2016 to 0.4ppt in 2019.
COVID-19 border restrictions are continuing to cause significant disruption to usual migration flows.
The ABS provides annual regional population data for the financial year. Growth patterns across the NT can be broadly split between greater Darwin and the rest of NT, with the former generally outperforming the latter.
- Greater Darwin’s population declined by 0.1%, the third consecutive year of decline (chart 11)
- the decline was primarily concentrated in Darwin city (down 0.7%) and its surrounding suburbs (down 1.3%)
- Palmerston recorded the strongest result in the year (up 1.9%)
- Greater Darwin’s population appears to have stabilised in following the completion of the Ichthys LNG project.
Rest of the NT
- population growth in the Rest of NT grew by 0.2%
- Barkly (up 0.8%) and East Arnhem (up 0.3%) recorded the strongest results
- East Arnhem returned to positive growth in 2018-19 following five consecutive years of decline, largely due to the closure of the Gove alumina refinery and associated surrounding businesses.
- population growth in Barkly and Daly-Tiwi-West Arnhem (up 0.2%) was positive following eight and five consecutive years of decline respectively.
- The ABS estimates the Aboriginal population every five years following a census. Final Aboriginal ERP following the 2016 Census was released in August 2018, including estimates for remoteness areas.
- At 30 June 2016 there were an estimated 74,546 Aboriginal people living in the NT, which represents 30.3% of the NT’s population and 9.3% of the national Aboriginal population.
- Between 2011 and 2016, the NT’s Aboriginal population grew by 8.3%, the lowest rate of growth among jurisdictions and below national growth of 19.2% (Table 2).
- The rise in growth of national Aboriginal populations can be attributed to an increase in the number of people identifying as Aboriginal. In addition, children born to parents of ‘mixed heritage’ are increasingly identified as Aboriginal. Both of these factors tend to be more prevalent in Australia’s metropolitan centres.
- At June 2016, 76.6% of the NT’s Aboriginal population lived in remote or very remote areas, down from 79.7% as at June 2011. This decline reflected a general trend nationally of declining Aboriginal population in remote areas and a related increase in Aboriginal population in urbanised regions.
- Nevertheless, a far greater proportion of the NT’s Aboriginal population live in remote and very remote areas than the jurisdiction with the next highest proportion (Western Australia with 38%). Nationally, the proportion of Aboriginal people living in remote and very remote areas declined from 21.3% in 2011 to 18.6% in 2016.
- Population statistics are based on data reported by the ABS. These include: quarterly results of headline population figures, including ERP, births, deaths, total NIM and NOM; annual releases such as detailed migration and regional population estimates; and less frequent data releases, such as Aboriginal population estimates that are released by the ABS every five years.
- ERP is a measure of population based on their usual residential address. It includes overseas residents who are in Australia for a period of over 12 months, as well as Australian residents and citizens who are outside of Australia for a period of less than 12 months.
- State and territory ERPs includes residents whose place of work may be in another jurisdiction, but whose usual place of residence, and their address registered with Medicare, is in that jurisdiction. This means the NT's large fly-in, fly-out workforce is not included in its population statistics. Adjustments are also made by the ABS to allow for residents who may have been born, or died, in another jurisdiction to the one in which they usually reside.
- Census data differs from ERP in that it is a count of people, on a particular night, rather than a measure of population flows. ERP is an estimate derived from the census count, which is then adjusted for any undercount or overcount in the census, residents overseas and other adjustments, including backdating from the date of the census to 30 June 2016.
- Census data is available in much finer detail than ERP data and is therefore useful as a relative measure, for example, comparing smaller geographic areas. Commencing mid-2017, the ABS has been releasing the results of the 2016 Census, including updated ERP data, as well as more detailed information that is not available for the inter-censal period.
- The Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet produces detailed information on remote communities in the NT, including population estimates. For further information, see the NT Government’s Bushtel website.