The population of the Northern Territory (NT) is on average much younger and more mobile than the Australian population in general. In this section, analysis is provided on the key components of the NT’s population growth. This includes the estimated resident population, 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.
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. For more information on this strategy, visit the NT Government’s Population Growth Strategy website.
The NT is Australia’s third largest geographical area and comprises 1% of the national population. This makes the NT the most sparsely populated jurisdiction, with 0.2 persons per square kilometre. Over half (59.6%) of the NT’s population reside in Greater Darwin and the remainder are dispersed over remote and very remote areas. About one third of the NT’s population is Aboriginal, with around 80% residing in remote and very remote areas.
The NT has a younger age profile than Australia (Chart 1), with a median age of 32.9 years compared to 37.3 years nationally. The large number of persons aged 25 to 34 years reflects the structure of NT’s economy, which has a strong mining, construction and defence presence. As a result, the NT’s gender balance is more skewed to males, with 108 males for every 100 females compared to the national rate of 99 males for every 100 females.
- The NT’s population is 244,761 people.
- In 2019, the Territory’s population decreased by 0.4 per cent, mainly reflective of net interstate migration (down 3,994 people) detracting from population growth, with positive contributions from natural increase (up 2,517 people) and net overseas migration (up 535 people).
- Population growth is the sum of natural increase, NIM and NOM.
- As at 31 December 2019, the NT’s ERP was 244 761 people, a decrease of 0.4% (942 persons) from the previous year (Chart 2). This is well below the national increase of 1.4% over the same period and the NT’s 20‑year annual average growth of 1.1%.
- Variations in NIM and NOM highlight the volatility in mobility of the NT’s population, which is largely driven by movement of the non-Aboriginal population to and from the NT in response to changing employment opportunities.
- Natural increase is the most stable of the three components of population change and has been the major driver of growth over the past 20 years.
- In 2019, natural increase added 2,517 people to the NT's population, contributing 1.0% towards total population growth. The impact of natural increase on total population growth is greater in the NT compared to the rest of Australia, which contributed 0.6% to growth over the same period.
- However, the NT’s annual contribution rate has continued to trend down and is below the 20-year average of 1.3%.
- This is largely driven by a softening in births contribution to population growth over the last 10 years (Chart 3), which partly reflects a fall in the number of women aged 15 to 49 years in the NT.
- The proportionate impact of deaths on the NT’s population remained relatively unchanged over the same period (Chart 3).
- NIM is the most volatile of the three population components and typically detracts from population growth, with a loss of 3,994 people to other jurisdictions in 2019. Though this is a 5.3 per cent improvement from the previous year.
- The flow of people that move to and from the NT typically averages between 15,000 and 17,000 people per annum, both arriving and departing (Chart 4). This is largely concentrated within the non‑Aboriginal population, with most Aboriginal population movements limited to within the NT.
- ABS also provide annual preliminary results of interstate migration movements. The NT generally has a much higher churn of migrants moving in and out than any other jurisdiction. Chart 5 shows the turnover of all state/territory populations’ total migration as compared to net migration for 2018.
- In 2018, the NT and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) reported a far higher turnover rate of total migration than other jurisdictions. However, unlike the ACT, the NT was the only jurisdiction to report a net outflow of overseas and interstate migrants.
- The NT’s total turnover of 41,870 persons was 17% of the total population. In contrast, Victoria’s total turnover of 403,950 persons was 6.3% of the total population. Had Victoria the same turnover rate as the NT, over a million people would have moved in and out of the state in one year.
- 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 those who are in their 20s and early 30s.
- In 2018, the total number of arrivals to the NT increased slightly, up by 30 people to 14,140. Despite this increase, the number of arrivals to the NT was still well below the 20‑year annual average rate of 15,629 arrivals.
- The small increase in arrivals was reasonably well spread, with the exception of 35‑49 year old males (down by 70 arrivals compared to the previous year) and 20‑34 year old females (down by 130 arrivals) (Chart 6). Both of these groups have reported three consecutive years of declining arrivals.
- The number of departures from the NT increased by 5.8% (up 1,010) to 18,370 people in 2018, with increases observed across all age groups (Chart 7).
- People aged 20-34 years was the largest contributor to the overall increase, with 6,740 (up 360) people departing the NT. There was also a large increase in the number of departures for people aged 50-64 years, with 2,270 (up 260) people departing over the same period (chart 8).
- The increase in departures is reflective of the completion of the construction phase of the Ichthys LNG project and subsequent lower workforce requirements.
- At a more detailed level of five-year age groups, the latest interstate migration data has shown the trends in migration have shifted slightly, with the largest increases in interstate departures amongst those aged 30-34 and 35-39, rather than concentrated among slightly younger age groups.
- In 2019, NOM added 535 people to the NT’s population, well below the 20‑year annual average of 1,430 persons.
- ABS also provide annual preliminary results of international migration movements. In 2018, the decline in NOM was largely driven by a decline in the number of arrivals into the NT (Chart 9).
- The number of arrivals by 20-34 year olds declined by 660 to 2,820. This is partly reflective of a decline in the number of arrivals on higher education visas and temporary and permanent skilled work visas in the year.
- Partly offsetting the decline in overseas arrivals to the NT was a fall in the number of overseas departures in 2018. This partly reflected a return to a more normal level of departures of those aged 65 and over (to 130) in 2018 after an unusually large number of departures in that age group the previous year. There was also a decline in the number of departures aged 50-64 years and those aged 0-19 years.
- In September 2019, the Commonwealth released an updated plan to better manage Australia’s future population.
- Key changes to the plan include a reduction in the total number of migrants to Australia and incentives to direct a greater share of migrants to regional areas.
- These changes have not yet been implemented, but could impact on the NT’s overseas migration rates in the future.
- Greater Darwin’s population has declined by 0.8%. This is the second consecutive decline, down by 0.4% in the year prior (chart 12).
- The decline was primarily concentrated in Darwin city (down 2.5%) and its surrounding suburbs (down 1.5%).
- Palmerston (up by 1.2%) recorded the strongest result, however this is well below the 10-year average of 3.0%.
- Greater Darwin’s population is likely to stabilise into 2019-20 following the completion of the Ichthys LNG project. The labour force from this project continues to recalibrate following the transition from the construction to the operational phase.
Rest of the NT
- Population growth in the Rest of NT remained unchanged.
- Katherine (up 0.2%) and East Arnhem (up 0.1%) 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.
- The ERP in Alice Springs (down 0.1%) has remained relatively stable, increasing by 31 people since 2016-17.
- Population growth in Barkly (down 0.3%) and Daly-Tiwi-West Arnhem (down 0.1%) have continued to decline in 2018-19, albeit slower than the five-year average rate of decline of 0.8% and 0.4%, respectively (Table 1).
- Chart 13 details the annual population change for each of the regions from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
- 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 18.7% 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 Housing and Community Development produces detailed information on remote communities in the NT, including population estimates. For further information, see the NT Government’s Bushtel website.