Four years into the pandemic, a report has found that Australian city populations are beginning to stabilise as migrant workers return and businesses revert to (relative) normality. The 2022 Population Statement – published today by the federal government’s Centre for Population and created to help guide infrastructure, housing and the delivery of services in Australia – also says the nation’s population is expected to rise from its current figure of around 26 million people to nearly 30 million by 2032 to 2033.

The Centre for Population also anticipates that, even though Victoria's lockdown-struck capital was hit harder than any other Australian city during the pandemic, Melbourne is on target to become Australia’s most populous city by 2031, overtaking Sydney from that top spot. It’s estimated Melbourne will have 6.1 million residents by 2031 compared to six million for Sydney.

It found that Melbourne’s population fell by 1.6 per cent between 2020 and 2021, as overseas migration (an important driving factor for Australia’s overall growth) ceased, and thousands of Victorian residents moved interstate and around 60,000 residents left Melbourne. Sydney’s population grew zero per cent during that same period.

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It was a different story in Queensland. Its growth continued to move forwards, with a 0.8 per cent increase in 2020-21, with interstate migration being the biggest contributor to that growth, as thousands of Australians made the move north. The state's population is forecast to rise from 5.3 million now to approximately 6.2 million by 2032–33.

Despite some of the strongest border control across the country, Western Australia’s population grew by 1.2 per cent, with the vast majority of the state’s residents living in Perth. This growth was largely due to interstate migration from other parts of Australia. The state’s capital is expected to reach 3.8 million over the next 10 years.

New South Wales is projected to remain Australia’s most densely populated state, anticipating 9.1 million residents by 2031. Victoria’s population is likely to climb from around 6.6 million now to 7.8 million by 2032–33.

South Australia’s population in 2021 was 1.8 million, but is projected to reach two million by 2032–33. The state generally relies on overseas migration to offset outflows of interstate migration, but this reversed during the pandemic. South Australia experienced reduced overseas migration during the pandemic but received stronger interstate migration.

Overseas and internal migration numbers are expected to return to pre-pandemic patterns, with growth in capital cities outpacing growth in regional areas. Capital city growth is projected to return to 1.6 per cent in 2023–24, then slowly decline towards 1.3 per cent by 2032−33. Population growth in regional areas is projected to remain relatively stable, with a slight decline projected from 1 per cent in 2022 to 0.9 percent in 2032.

So, what does this mean in terms of getting back into the swing of things? According to the federal report, “States and territories are projected to return to the well-established patterns of population growth that were experienced pre-pandemic. Capital cities and regional areas are also projected to return to normal patterns of population growth as net overseas migration returns and internal migration returns to pre-pandemic patterns.”