This section provides analysis on the Northern Territory's (NT) population, including population characteristics and key components of population growth such as natural increase, net interstate migration and net overseas migration.

| Key facts | Components of population growthRegional population | Aboriginal population | Population characteristicsExplanatory notes

Key facts

Components of population growth

Population growth comprises natural increase, net interstate migration and net overseas migration. Historically natural increase is the largest contributor to annual population growth in the Territory followed by overseas migration while interstate migration generally detracts from population growth.

Natural increase

In the December quarter 2021:

In the year to December 2021:

Demographic patterns

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.

Interstate migration

In the December quarter 2021:

In the year to December 2021:

Demographic patterns

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.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused significant disruption to usual migration flows with border closures and various quarantine requirements impacting migration intentions. In the year to March 2021, the Territory experienced an improvement in net interstate migration largely driven by falling interstate departures. Over the June and September quarters 2021, the Territory saw the improvements in net interstate migration largely reverse as the Territory recorded unusually high interstate migration levels.

The higher than usual interstate migration levels relate to Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination drive and the resulting widespread updating of Medicare residential records, which is used by ABS to estimate interstate migration.

The ABS also provide annual preliminary data on internal migration movements between the jurisdictions and population characteristics.

In 2020-21:

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.

Overseas migration

In the December quarter 2021:

In the year to December 2021:

Demographic patterns

Overseas migration generally contributes to the NT’s population, although at a lower rate relative to the eastern seaboard states. The impact of COVID-19 border restrictions has caused significant disruption to usual migration flows with net overseas migration significantly contracting in 2020.

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 had been moderating, falling from a peak of contributing 0.9ppt to growth in 2016 to 0.4ppt in 2019.

Regional population

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

In 2020-21:

Rest of the NT

In 2020-21:

The Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet also produce detailed information on remote communities in the NT, including population estimates. For further information, see the NT Government’s Bushtel website.

Aboriginal population

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.

Population characteristics

The NT’s population accounts for about 1% of the Australian population, with the majority 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, which 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 2).

A further characteristic of the NT’s population is males outnumber females. 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 and net overseas migration. Fluctuations in the Territory’s annual population growth rate are largely due to variations in interstate migration, which typically fluctuates with employment opportunities.

Explanatory notes