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 245,980 persons accounts for about 1% of the Australian population, with the majority (60.1%) 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 33.1 years compared with 37.4 years nationally (Chart 1). 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 has a median age of 26 years compared with 34.9 years for the non‑Aboriginal population.
A further characteristic of the NT’s population is males outnumber females 105 to 100, compared with 98 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 245,980 people at 30 June 2020
- The quarterly growth was 458 people (0.2%)
- In annual terms:
- the NT’s population declined by 163 people (-0.1%) (Chart 2)
- natural increase contributed 2525 people to the NT’s population
- net interstate migration detracted 2697 people from the NT’s population
- net overseas migration contributed 9 people 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.
- natural increase contributed 1.0 percentage points (ppt) to total population growth in the NT, nearly 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 was flat at 2525 people, as births increased by 1.4% to 3605 people and deaths decreased by 4% to 1080 people.
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.
- net interstate migration detracted 1.1% from population growth in the NT
- the NT reported a net loss of 2697 persons to other jurisdictions, though this is a 38.3% improvement from the previous year
- interstate departures decreased by 13.5% to 16,214, partly offset by a smaller decrease in interstate arrivals, down 6% to 13,517 (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 13% per annum (32 000 persons), compared with about 3 to 5% across the states (Chart 5)
- the NT reported a net outflow of 3994 persons. All other jurisdictions reported a net outflow for interstate migrants except for Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania (Chart 5)
- Queensland was the Territory's largest source market for both arrivals and departures, accounting for 30.3% (9668 persons) of all movers, followed by Victoria (6208 persons) and New South Wales (5773 persons)
- there were strong net outflows to Queensland (1324 persons), Victoria (900 persons) and South Australia (598 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 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 2019-20, net overseas migration:
- contributed effectively nothing to total population growth in the NT
- declined by 99% to 9 people from the previous year
- accounted for effectively none of the national total.
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 streams have remained relatively stable over the past five years, but overseas migration has moderated, falling from a peak of contributing 0.8ppt to growth in 2016 to 0.3ppt in 2019. This mainly reflects large outflows in ‘other’ visa categories, comprising New Zealand citizens, Australian citizens and other visas (Chart).
- net overseas migration increased by 37.2% (207 persons) compared to the previous year, following a 55.2% (686 persons) decline reported in 2018.
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. This is consistent with global trends toward greater urbanisation.
- 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.