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).

 infographic showing aboriginal population   

Background | Key facts | Population growthRegional 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.

Population characteristics

The NT’s population of 246,561 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 105.4 to 100, compared with 98.3 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.

Key facts

Natural increase

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 2020:

Interstate migration

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 2020:

Migration patterns

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

In 2020:

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

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 2020:

Migration patterns

The ABS also provides annual preliminary results of international migration movements, disaggregated by arrivals and departures, for different migrant groups and age groups.

Permanent and temporary migration visa streams have remained relatively stable over the past five years, but overseas migration has moderated, falling from a peak of contributing 0.7ppt to growth in 2016-17 to 0.1ppt in 2019-20. This mainly reflects large outflows of Australian citizens and ‘other’ visa holders.

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 2019-20:

Rest of the NT

In 2019-20:

Aboriginal population

Explanatory notes