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Most of Australia's population is concentrated in two widely separated coastal regions. By far the largest of these, in terms of area and population, lies in the south-east and east. The smaller of the two regions is in the south-west of the continent. In both coastal regions the population is concentrated in urban centres, particularly the State and Territory capital cities. Half the area of the continent contains only 0.3% of the population, and the most densely populated 1% of the continent contains 84% of the population. The distribution of Australia's population is shown in map 5.14.
Source: Regional Polulation Growth, Australia and New Zealand (3218.0).
While New South Wales remains the most populous State, with 6.5 million people at June 2000, the fastest growth has occurred in the Northern Territory and Queensland, with increases of 10.1% and 9.2% respectively in the five years to 2000. In contrast, the population of South Australia grew by just 1.9% over the same period and Tasmania declined by 0.7% (see table 5.15).
The main factor changing the distribution of Australia's population is internal migration. During 1999-2000, 367,390 people moved from one State or Territory to another, a similar level to the previous year. In 1999-2000 only Victoria and Queensland recorded net interstate migration gains. Tasmania's population declined by about 430 people, as natural increase in the State was offset by continued net interstate loss (see table 5.16).
Table 5.17 sets out the estimated resident population in the major population centres at June 1995 and 2000. About 70% of Australia's population growth between 1995 and 2000 occurred in the capital cities, the most significant increases being on the outskirts of these metropolitan regions. Of all the capital cities, Sydney and Melbourne had the largest growth in the five years to 2000, with increases of 264,000 and 222,000 people respectively. The fastest capital city population growth over the 1995-2000 period occurred in Darwin, by an average of 2.3% per year. Brisbane and Perth had the next fastest growth rates, with average annual growth rates of 1.8% and 1.7% respectively. While much of the capital city growth has tended to occur on the urban fringes of the capitals, spectacular growth rates in the inner city areas have been a dramatic feature within Australia's two largest capitals. From 1995 to 2000 the inner city Local Government Area (LGA) of Sydney grew by an average of 15% per year (population of 24,900 in 2000) while the LGA of Melbourne (population of 52,000 in 2000) had annual average growth of 6.6%.
Other major population centres experiencing significant population increases between 1995 and 2000 were Gold Coast-Tweed and Sunshine Coast which grew by 3.5% and 3.4% respectively, while Cairns and Kalgoorlie-Boulder increased by an average 2.4% and 2.2% per year respectively. Rapid population growth was also recorded in most LGAs elsewhere along the Queensland and New South Wales coastline and in some LGAs in the south-west corner of Western Australia.
Some areas of Australia have experienced significant population decline in recent years. While some of the population declines have occurred in established suburbs within capital cities and major urban centres, the fastest population decline has occurred in rural areas. Most of this decline has been caused by net migration loss. Such population loss is associated with technological, social and economic changes and industry restructuring in local economies.
In 1911, 43% of Australians lived in rural areas. This proportion fell steadily and in 1976 14% of the population lived in rural areas. Between 1976 and 1991 the decline appeared to have halted, with a slight increase in the proportion of people living in rural areas (see graph 5.18), which may have been due to people moving to rural areas surrounding the cities, but still working in the city. However, the 1996 Census showed that, once again, the rural population had decreased as a proportion of the total population.