Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Urban stocks and processes (continued)

Population, households and human capital

  • Population
  • Population density
  • Households
  • Human capital
  • Implications
  • -->


  • Components of population change: natural increase and immigration
  • Future population scenarios
  • Increase in short-term visitors and increase in tourism
  • Emergence of mega-metro regions
  • Intra-urban mobility
  • Suburbanisation and re-urbanisation
  • Zonal patterns of population growth within the five largest metropolitan cities
  • Indigenous population mobility
  • -->
    Components of population change: natural increase and immigration

    Natural increase and immigration are the two factors driving aggregate population change. The main contributor to population growth in Australia continues to be natural increase (births minus deaths).

    The rate of natural increase for Australia between 1998 and 1999 was 6.3 per 1000, with a net increase of 119 000 persons. This represented a general decline compared to earlier periods in the 1990s when the rate of natural increase was around 8.0 per 1000. But despite this slight downward trend, the rate of natural increase has remained fairly constant (between 6 and 8 per 1000) over the last decade or so (Figure 9). A key factor is the low level of fertility in Australia, which has declined significantly since the 1960s for a whole variety of reasons, including widespread use of birth control, increased participation of women in the workforce, and delays in couples having children, all of which relate to changing lifestyle and preferences. As well, improved public health measures and medical science have led to significant improvements in both rates of mortality and morbidity, resulting in increased longevity for women and men. The outcome has been a decline over time in rates of natural increase. Of course there are significantly higher levels of fertility and rates of mortality and morbidity for some segments of the population, and in particular for Indigenous Australians.

    Figure 9: Components of population growth, Australia, 1986-1999. [HS Indicators 0.1 and 0.5]

     Components of population growth, Australia, 1986-1999.

    Source: ABS (2000a and various years)

    The other factor contributing to aggregate population growth is net immigration (long-term arrivals minus long-term departures). Between 1998 and 1999, net immigration was 117 300 persons, a rate of 6.2 per 1000 population.

    The contribution of net immigration to total population growth tends to vary considerably over time, being influenced by both economic and political factors. Economic factors are particularly important, with a noticeable decline in net immigration numbers during the recession years of the early 1990s. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, net immigration was 9.0 per 1000, but this declined to a much lower rate of 1.7 per 1000 in 1993.

    New South Wales and Victoria gain most in terms of net overseas migration, recording net increases between 1989 and 1999 of 231 000 and 125 000 persons respectively. Most of these migrants settle in Sydney and Melbourne. Queensland and Western Australia also recorded net gains from overseas migration, with increases of 72 000 and 70 000 respectively. The remaining states recorded much lower net overseas migration. Most recent data and related survey studies (e.g. White and Williams 1996) suggest that permanent settlers are more likely to locate in the larger states and capital cities. In 1998, the majority of permanent migrants settled in New South Wales (41%), Victoria (21%) and Queensland (20%) (ABS 2000a and various years).

    Surveys of recently arrived immigrants point to the importance of employment prospects and the strength of the local economy, the location of family and friends (chain migration), and lifestyle and climate as being important determinants of initial settlement. There are obvious associations between destination choice and type of immigration visa, with those holding a skill category visa choosing their initial destination with reference to employment factors, and those in family and humanitarian categories moving within close proximity to families and friends. Either way, the prime destination is the city. (There has been concern about this marked geographic concentration of the places where immigrants settle in Australia, with suggestions that more should be encouraged to go to places outside the big cities.)

    Future population scenarios

    Depending on the fertility/net migration scenario applied, the population of Australia is projected to reach between 19.7 and 21.3 million in 2011, and then to increase to between 20 and 23 million in 2021 (Table 6). Both the high fertility/high migration scenario and the low fertility/zero net migration scenario see population growth rates beginning to decline. The implications for human settlements of these differing scenarios are significant. They include differing rates of household and family formation, and commensurate differences in the demand for dwellings and associated infrastructure. Key environmental issues are also affected, such as the amount of space needed for residential land, the energy use from buildings and transport, the demand for new roads, and the amount of water used (Foran and Poldy 2000). The implications for the environment are clear; namely, increasing demand on resources unless per capita rates of consumption across a range of activities can be accomplished.

    Table 6: Projected population according to various scenarios, 2011 and 2021. (Millions of people.)
    Scenario 2011 2021
    High fertility/high net migration 21.3 23.1
    High fertility/low net migration 21.0 22.5
    High fertility/zero net migration 19.9 20.4
    Low fertility/high net migration 21.1 22.6
    Low fertility/low net migration 20.1 22.1
    Low fertility/zero net migration 19.7 20.0

    Source: ABS (1998b).

    Increase in short-term visitors and increase in tourism

    The lure of Australia as a tourist destination since the mid-1980s is reflected in the continuing increase in the numbers of short-term visitors who continue to arrive, despite the impact of the Asian crisis of the late 1990s and the general downturn in Japan's economy throughout the 1990s. Between 1986 and 1998, the number of short-term visitors grew on average by 9.3% per year. In the late 1990s, the majority of visitors came to Australia for holidays (55%) or to visit relatives (19%), while a smaller proportion came for business-related travel (11%) (Table 7).

    Table 7: International visitors by main purpose of journey, 1986 to 1999. (Percentage of respondents.) [HS Indicator 5.4]
    Main Purpose 1986 1990 1999
    Holiday 48.6 55.7 55.4
    Visiting relatives 22.8 20.6 19.2
    Business 11.9 10.4 10.6
    Other 16.7 13.3 14.8

    Sources: 1986 data from BTR (1991); 1990 data from BTR (1994); 1999 data from BTR (2000a).

    A further crucial development in short-term visitor movements to Australia in the second half of the 1990s has been the recognition by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs of the role for non-settler work-related migration. There has been a massive growth of the new temporary worker visa categories, which is contributing a significant part of the net migration gain.

    The growth in tourist numbers impacts on Australia's cities and regions in a variety of ways and it is also spatially selective. Often it is responsible for significant growth in service-based industry and employment and can provide an important economic stimulus, especially in regions that have faced decline due to the downturn in traditional industries. In other areas, the growth of tourist numbers has resulted in the development of purpose-built consumption landscapes. Notable in Australia are the array of theme parks on Queensland's Gold Coast and the newly completed Fox Studios in Sydney. These types of developments have been accompanied by a host of tourist-related services, including dining establishments, shopping complexes and accommodation.

    The region in and around Sydney attracts the most international visitors: approximately 2.3 million visitors or 55.5% of all visitors. Other important regions in terms of tourist visitors include Melbourne (24.4%), the Gold Coast (21.4%), Far North Queensland (18.4%) and Brisbane (17.2%). Non-metropolitan locations attract fewer numbers of international tourists, the exceptions being the Whitsunday (Barrier Reef) coast in Queensland and the Uluru-Alice Springs region in the Northern Territory (Table 8). While the growth of international tourist numbers to Australia has been rapid and substantial, domestic tourism still accounts for over 70% of total tourist activity. The geographic distribution of where domestic trips are made reflects roughly the size of the states: New South Wales attracting 34%, Victoria 34%, Queensland 20%, Western Australia 9%, South Australia 7%, Tasmania 3%, the ACT 2%, and the Northern Territory 1%. Turning to the future and combining forecasts to 2021 for both international and domestic tourism according to destination region (Figure 10) reveals the pressure that Australia's capital cities will be under to provide services to both residents and visitors alike. Despite images to the contrary, tourism in Australia is predominantly urban.

    Table 8: Top 20 regions visited in Australia by international visitors, 1999.
    Region visited Visitors (thousands)A Percent of totalA
    Sydney, NSW 2 275.6 55.5
    Melbourne, Vic 997.7 24.4
    Gold Coast, Qld 845.8 21.4
    Far North Queensland, Qld 755.8 18.4
    Brisbane, Qld 04.4 17.2
    Perth, WA 519.2 12.7
    Adelaide, SA 296.8 7.2
    Petermann, NT 254.8 6.2
    Alice Springs, NT 211.1 5.2
    Sunshine Coast, Qld 199.6 4.9
    Whitsunday Islands, Qld 197.7 4.8
    Northern rivers, NSW 182.6 4.5
    Canberra, ACT 180.7 4.4
    Darwin, NT 179.2 4.4
    Hervey Bay/Maryborough, Qld 177.4 4.3
    Northern Queensland, Qld 146.3 3.6
    Fitzroy, Qld 121.2 3.0
    Western Victoria, Vic 107.7 2.6
    Kakadu, NT 98.9 2.4
    Hunter Valley, NSW 88.4 2.2
    Total international visitors to Australia 4 096.7A 100.0A

    AThe totals of the columns add to more than the total number of visitors, as visitors tend to travel to more than one region.

    Sources: BTR (1999, 2000a).

    Figure 10: Projected total tourist visitor nights in Australia's top ten visitor regions, 2021.
    Estimates based on 'low' domestic population scenarios and 11 million inbound visitors scenarios. Visitors include domestic and international.

     Projected total tourist visitor nights in Australia's top ten visitor regions, 2021.

    Source: Foran and Poldy (2000)

    The impacts of tourism on local economies and the environment can be significant in the context of the capacity to accommodate particular volumes of visitors, especially where there are seasonal peaks and environmental stress. For example, when the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria were heavily infected with blue-green algae in March 1999 and again in March 2001, the profitability of the regional tourism industry suffered.

    Emergence of mega-metro regions

    It has been noted earlier that a significant and long-established characteristic of Australia's urban and regional development is the level of metropolitan primacy, or the extent to which population is concentrated in the major metro regions, with continued growth of the major cities. The distinction between the traditional metropolitan areas and their surrounding peri-urban regions (hinterlands) has become increasingly blurred (Forster 1999). Locations outside the major metropolitan areas that were previously part of metropolitan hinterlands have experienced rapid population growth and associated regional growth development. The outcome of this growth has been the development of the mega-metro regions referred to earlier. This is a common phenomenon across the world (Hall 1999), and has been described by terms such as megalopolis, ecumenopolis and mega cities by other authors.

    The importance of the mega-metro regions to the economic, social and political life of contemporary Australia is significant. These regions are where the highest shares of service-based employment has occurred. They have attracted the bulk of new investment and business opportunities. Agglomeration of economic activities in many of the industry sectors in these regions has resulted in the declining fortunes of more distant regional cities and towns, and in particular the smaller ones. These processes of agglomeration continue to refine Australia's urban hierarchy and help explain Sydney's status as Australia's 'global city'.

    The three largest mega-metro regions are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The mega-metro region of Sydney-which extends from Newcastle in the north to Wollongong in the south and west to the Blue Mountains-alone houses 25% of the nation's people. The Melbourne mega-metro region, which stretches from Geelong through Melbourne to the Westernport area, has 19% of the population; and the Brisbane-south-eastern Queensland mega-metro region, including the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast has 11%. When the Perth and Adelaide mega-metro regions are added, these five mega-metro regions accounted for 70% of the population in 1994. Between 1994 and 1999 their aggregate populations increased by 8.8% to account for 72% of the nation's population (see Table 9). The fastest rates of growth occurred in the Brisbane mega-metro region, which had an average annual growth rate of 2.4% between 1994 and 1999.

    Table 9: Population share: Australia's mega-metropolitan regions 1999.
    Mega-metro region Population Percentage of Australian population Annual rate of growth 1994-1999 %
    Sydney 4 733 996 25.0 1.3
    Melbourne 3 646 642 19.2 1.2
    Brisbane 2 139 010 11.3 2.4
    Perth 1 449 512 6.3 1.9
    Adelaide 1 201 922 7.6 0.5
    Canberra 310 173 1.6 0.4
    Hobart 207 718 1.1 -0.01
    Total mega-metro regions 13 688 973 72.1 8.8

    Source: ABS (2000a).

    Thus, Australia as a nation continues to experience very significant levels of population growth associated with the mega-metro regions, centred on the state capitals. The major component of this growth is in the form of continuing suburbanisation and an extension of urbanised area into the peri-urban regions surrounding the officially designated metropolitan areas of the capital cities. Particularly in the cases of the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane mega-metro regions, and to a lesser extent the Perth mega-metro region, this is creating a vast multi-centred form of metropolis. If Australia follows the trends of many other nations, these mega-metro regions can be expected to develop even further in prominence in the future as high-speed ground transport-freeways, but more particularly high-speed rail-transform 20th century provincial cities such as Ballarat, Traralgon, Goulburn, Newcastle, Noosa, Gold Coast and Toowoomba, into middle ring suburbs of their respective 21st century capitals (Newton et al. 1997).

    The continued growth of these mega-metro regions raises significant issues for urban policy and planning, as the impact on often fragile coastal environments is substantial and the implications for the supply of water, provision of transportation infrastructure and management of waste outputs present major challenges.

    Intra-urban mobility

    Approximately one in five Australians change their residential location in any year (Newton and Bell 1996), but most moves are over a relatively short distance. The five-year mobility rate in Australia's capital cities varies between 39% in Sydney and Melbourne (Burgess and Skeltys 1992) and 42.7% in Adelaide (Baum 1995). The propensity to move settlements is generally highest for younger households, low-income households, renters and couples without children (Hassan et al. 1996).

    In contrast to longer-distance migration between states or regions, mobility within a large city is undertaken generally as a means of satisfying housing wants and needs that relate to family life-cycle stage, housing tenure and socio-economic status. While data relating to mobility decisions are limited, the surveys conducted in the early 1990s point to the importance of factors such as the desire to purchase a home, to increase the size of the home, lifecycle or family-related reasons, and employment (travel time) reasons. A significant proportion of households (9%) are also forced to move because of factors beyond their control (Burgess and Skeltys 1992, Wulff and Newton 1996).

    Suburbanisation and re-urbanisation

    Population dynamics within Australia's big cities are complex, reflecting the outcome of a changing economy and housing markets, and the impacts of an increasingly diverse set of household groups making residential location decisions.

    Throughout the post-World War II era, suburbanisation of both population and jobs has been an important - indeed dominant - process shaping the development of Australia's big cities, with development and population pushing further out into the urban fringes and peri-urban regions. The general pattern of development had been one of population growth in outer metropolitan areas and a decline in the population of the inner city suburbs.

    Population growth in outer suburban and fringe areas often runs ahead of infrastructure, service and employment provision, raising important social justice issues including the question of locational disadvantage for lower-income households that were forced to seek the cheaper housing in these outer metropolitan locations. As Cass (1990, p. 11) argues:

    'One of the conditions which may exacerbate and perpetuate disadvantage is locality, living in a region (often as a result of severely restricted housing options) where access to a range of necessary education and public services is limited, where suitable jobs are scarce, and the potential journey to and from work long and expensive.'

    However, over the last decade or so a new trend is evident that is counteracting part of the long-established push to further suburbanisation. Population numbers in inner-city suburbs have begun to turn around in all five of the nation's big cities. After decades of decline, many of the older sections of the inner-cities have begun to take on a new lease of life. The process of gentrification had been evident for several decades in selected inner city locations such as Paddington in Sydney and Carlton in Melbourne. But during the 1990s it spread rapidly and widely across the inner suburbs of all the capital cities as part of a more general transformation of cities from centres of manufacturing to centres of information and services (Gipps et al. 1997). Inner-cities also appear better attuned to the lifestyles and demographics of the early 21st century urban population. In recent times, inner-city transition has also been stimulated by 'showpiece' projects. Many of these projects are government-initiated, and include projects such as the renewal of the Melbourne Docklands into a waterfront commercial and residential precinct, the Ultimo-Pyrmont area near Darling Harbour in Sydney, the remodelling of warehouses at Teneriffe in Brisbane, and the East Perth redevelopment area in Perth. These inner-city showpiece projects are much heralded as examples of successful inner-city revitalisation, whereby large areas of now obsolescent former industrial and transport activity are transformed into new uses. During the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, public policy initiatives, including the Better Cities Program, had a substantial catalytic impact on re-urbanisation, based on the concept of 'urban consolidation', which was seen to represent a more effective and efficient form of urban development than low-density suburban sprawl. Journalist Evan McHugh (1999 pp.135-139) made this comment about these changes:

    'These aren't the only developments currently under way in Australia but they are places to watch. In some, entire cities are about to spring up where once there were industrial eyesores. In others, new life will be breathed into old... the benefit is that our major capitals are regaining a heart. They are coming to life 24 hrs a day, seven days a week.'

    Showpiece project - Brisbane's South Bank parkland, Breaka Beach

    Showpiece project - Brisbane's South Bank parkland, Breaka Beach

    Source: Stimson

    But inner-city population growth and development encompasses much more than the development of showpiece projects. The revitalisation of the inner-city also involved the social and economic upgrading of old working-class suburbs as new households moved in to renovate and remodel existing dwellings-the gentrification process described earlier.

    Movement to the inner city has also been associated with the development of infill housing and the construction of large apartment developments as a new wave of households choose to make the inner-city their home. These are generally young households 'seeking a fast paced, low maintenance lifestyle, leading a push back to the inner-city and completing a cycle begun 50 years ago' (Chandler 2000 p.2). They choose to move to apartment buildings for specific lifestyle and symbolic reasons and have been an important element in driving an inner-city revival (Watling 1999). Complex and diverse household structures have emerged as part of these processes, including a widespread incidence of multiple households and dual- occupancy, as well as a considerable preponderance of single-person households and 'empty nester' couples moving back into inner-city housing.

    Inner city office conversions

    Inner city office conversions.

    Source: CSIRO Division of Building, Construction and Engineering

    Zonal patterns of population growth within the five largest metropolitan cities

    The rate of population increase occurring in the various parts of Australia's five largest capital city metropolitan areas is shown in Table 10. The rates of growth in the core areas have increased considerably between 1994 and 1999. The table shows that there are differences in the rates of growth in the different zones between these cities. In general, rates of population growth in the inner city suburbs, while positive, are still below those occurring in the outer suburbs and fringe areas of these cities, although growth rates in the core areas around the CBDs are high.

    Table 10: Annual average rates of growth (%) in various zones in Australia's largest cities, 1994-1999.
    City Core Inner Middle Outer Fringe All zones
    Sydney 1.9 1.0 1.0 1.6 0.9 1.4
    Melbourne 2.1 0.8 0.7 2.1 1.1 1.2
    Brisbane 1.2 0.4 1.3 2.6 1.2 1.9
    Perth 3.9 0.8 0.9 2.8 3.2 1.9
    Adelaide 1.9 0.3 0.2 0.5 2.1 0.5

    Source: ABS (2000a).

    Suburbanisation remains a dominant process of metropolitan growth in Australia's largest cities, but the 'doughnut' effect of inner city depopulation, characteristic of all cities in the 1970s and early 1980s, has disappeared for Sydney (Figure 11) and is significantly diminished for Melbourne (Figure 12). Brisbane, at the heart of the south-east Queensland population growth, continues to add population at all distances from its centre (Figure 13). The pattern of inner-city population turnaround for Melbourne and Sydney is also illustrated in (Figure 14) in relation to the growth in the suburbs (20-60 km) and peri-urban regions (over 60 km).

    Figure 11: Change in population density, Sydney, 1981-1996.

     Change in population density, Sydney, 1981-1996

    Source: Baker et al. (2001)

    Figure 12: Change in population density, Melbourne, 1981-1996.

     Change in population density, Melbourne, 1981-1996

    Source: Baker et al. (2001)

    Figure 13: Change in population density, Brisbane, 1981-1996.

     Change in population density, Brisbane, 1981-1996

    Source: Baker et al. (2001)

    Figure 14: Population change by zone-an assessment of re-urbanisation/ suburbanisation, 1981-1996.

     Population change by zone-an assessment of re-urbanisation/ suburbanisation, 1981-1996

    Source: Baker et al. (2001)

    Indigenous population mobility

    A high level of population mobility exists between Indigenous settlements in many regions of Australia. Analysis of Indigenous migration data from the 1981 and 1986 censuses (Gray 1989) showed that 'at both inter-state level and country-to-city level, any Aboriginal migration flows in one direction tend to be almost cancelled out by a flow of similar size in the opposite direction', a finding subsequently supported through inter-regional migration analysis (Taylor and Bell 1996). Indigenous mobility patterns approximate circulation rather than migration with the development of localised rather than national networks of movement (Moran 2000). This can create, in effect, two distinct populations in remote regions-a relatively stable and long-standing (albeit locally mobile) Indigenous resident group and a chronically transient non-Indigenous group.

    Various 'push and pull' factors operate in both urban and rural areas, and create a circular flow of movement. Factors which promote movement away from rural into urban centres include escaping social tensions, and the attraction to employment prospects, social services and access to alcohol. Factors which promote the return to rural areas include traditional obligations, need for family, and escaping alcohol-related problems.

    As we enter the 21st century there has been much publicity and concern about the so-called 'haemorrhaging of the bush' and the migration of non-Indigenous people from many small rural town, to regional centres or capital cities. Interestingly, it is often the relatively stable local Indigenous population that becomes the core group and economic base of such towns once the non-Indigenous population has declined (Memmott 2001).