NT population decline ‘just a few babies away’ 

2010 would have shown a decline in the Top End’s population if not for a spike in babies born, according to research from The Northern Institute's, Andrew Taylor

Only an unusually large number of births prevented the Territory’s population from declining during 2010, according to a leading population expert.

Population researcher with Charles Darwin University’s The Northern Institute Andrew Taylor has found that after several years of relatively high population growth, more recent data indicated 2010 would have shown a marked decline in the Top End’s population if not for a spike in “new arrivals”.

Mr Taylor said, however, that the slowdown was in line with projections and not a signal to panic.

“While strong growth during the past five years has increased the focus on planning for a bigger Territory, we remain a small, delicate and dynamic population,” he said.

“The rates of population growth experienced from 2004 to 2008 were driven by uncharacteristically high net interstate migration.

“This has returned to the negative and more people now are leaving the Territory than are arriving from interstate.”

Mr Taylor said he believed that if births during 2010 were at similar levels to the previous decade, the NT would have experienced overall population decline during the year.

“While a high number of births has possibly prevented population loss in 2010, past data shows that mothers and children are a large part of the interstate exodus,” he said.

“High births are likely to equate to a high number of mothers and children departing the Territory in 2011 and beyond, largely to be close to family.”

Mr Taylor said the news was not all bad, with data showing no decline in overseas migration to the Territory resulting from a tightening of national policy and entry criteria as yet. In fact, net overseas migration remained strong during 2010.

He said he believed the latest findings were consistent with the way the Territory’s population has grown over time and that policy makers needed to promote a long-term balance in the composition of population growth.

“These issues are clearly related to the structure of our economy and to a range of push and pull factors which bring people to this great part of Australia, but also make them leave,” he said.

“Without a more balanced approach to population growth, the image of the Territory as a short-term option for many will continue to make our population subject to shocks and, sometimes, overall population loss.”

And while population trends continued to be a numbers game Mr Taylor said that dialogue about the Territory’s composition, not just numbers, was needed.

“Keeping women in the Territory when they have children and finding innovative ways to encourage Territorians to stay on after retirement are crucial to reducing the image of the Territory as a place of temporariness,” he said.

“We also need to recognise that regions and centres outside of Darwin face particular challenges attracting and keeping people in the long term.”