3218.0 - Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/03/2016   
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Much has been written about the impact of the resources boom on the Australian economy over the past decade, but the growth in mining has had minimal impact on many of our cities, towns and regions. In most places, mining jobs comprise only a very small proportion of the total workforce. Even at the peak of the boom in 2012, only 2.4% of the Australian workforce was employed in the mining industry.

However, in some areas of Australia, the growth in the mining industry has had significant demographic, social, and economic impact. This has particularly been the case in Western Australia and Queensland, where mining investment has made large contributions to the local economies and, as a result, many regions have experienced large and/or relatively fast population growth.

This article examines overall trends in mining employment, with a focus on population change in areas primarily associated with the Australian mining industry, specifically during the period of high employment growth (2005-2012) and the more recent downturn (2012-2015).


During the latter part of the twentieth century, the number of people employed in the mining industry in Australia progressively declined, from 109,200 in February 1986 to a low of 75,400 in February 2001.

However, since 2001 employment in mining began to rise, and over the next eleven years the number of people working in this industry more than tripled, to a peak of 275,200 in May 2012.

Over the past three years, employment levels have declined once again, falling by 18% (to 226,300 people) between May 2012 and May 2015.


(a) Original series
Source: Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, Nov 2015 (ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.003)


This article explores the changes in population of five selected Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3s) in Australia. Those regions that have been selected had more than 10% of their populations employed in the mining industry at the time of the 2011 Census.

They are the SA3s of:

  • Pilbara, Western Australia (19% employed in mining, the highest proportion of all SA3s in Australia)
  • Bowen Basin - North, Queensland (15%)
  • Central Highlands (Qld), Queensland (13%)
  • Goldfields, Western Australia (13%)
  • Outback - North, Queensland (12%)



A vast area in northern Western Australia covering over 500,000 square kilometres, the Pilbara is known for its petroleum, natural gas and iron ore deposits. The population of the SA3 increased by over 40% between 2005 and 2013 (from 47,000 to 66,200 people) growing between 3.2% and 5.4% per year, before levelling out in 2013-14 (0.2%) and declining in 2014-15 (-0.7%).

Graph Image for Annual population growth, Pilbara SA3, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Source(s): Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 (cat. no. 3218.0)

The Pilbara SA3 comprises seven Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s). Three SA2s experienced a decline in population in 2014-15: Newman (down 6.8%), East Pilbara (2.3%) and Karratha (0.2%). The population decline has been most apparent in East Pilbara, which in contrast grew by between 16% and 18% per year between 2006-07 and 2008-09.

Bowen Basin - North

The SA3 of Bowen Basin - North in Central Queensland covers an area of almost 80,000 square kilometres and is home to Australia's largest coal reserves. For most of the past decade, its population has increased by around 2% per year, increasing from 32,300 in 2005 to 38,000 in 2013. However, in 2013-14 the growth rate was just 0.2% and in 2014-15 the population fell by 0.8%.

Graph Image for Annual population growth, Bowen Basin - North SA3, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Source(s): Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 (cat. no. 3218.0)

Three of the five SA2s which make up Bowen Basin - North experienced population declines in 2014-15. Broadsound - Nebo had the fastest decline (down by 2.9%), followed by Collinsville (1.8%) and Bowen (0.4%).

Central Highlands (Qld)

Central Highlands (Qld) SA3 sits just south of Bowen Basin - North in Central Queensland and covers an area of around 60,000 square kilometres. Along with coal, the region has the largest sapphire-producing fields in the Southern Hemisphere. The population of Central Highlands increased from 27,600 people in 2005 to 32,600 in 2014 (between 1.0% and 3.2% per year) until 2014-15, when the population declined by 0.4%.

Graph Image for Annual population growth, Central Highlands SA3, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Source(s): Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 (cat. no. 3218.0)

Two of the three SA2s in Central Highlands declined in population in 2014-15. Central Highlands - West declined by 1.0% followed by Central Highlands - East (0.9%). The remaining SA2, Emerald, recorded a slight 0.2% population increase in 2014-15 (compared to a 5.1% increase in 2011-12).


Geographically, Goldfields is the largest SA3 in Australia, covering 715,000 square kilometres. Associated predominately with open cut gold mining, the area is also known for nickel extraction and agriculture. Between 2007-08 and 2012-13 population growth varied between 1.8% and 2.7% per year, but in the past two years the population has declined (by 2.0% in 2013-14 and 1.3% in 2014-15).

Graph Image for Annual population growth, Goldfields SA3, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Source(s): Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 (cat. no. 3218.0)

Every SA2 in the region experienced population decline in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The SA2 of Leinster - Leonora, which had been growing at over 8.0% per year between 2006-07 and 2009-10, declined by 4.5% in 2013-14 and 5.2% in 2014-15.

Outback - North

The SA3 of Outback - North in the far north-western corner of Queensland covers over 306,000 square kilometres and is known for its production of lead, copper, silver and zinc. Its population increased from 32,100 people in 2005 to 35,300 in 2013, before declining in 2013-14 (down 0.1%) and 2014-15 (0.8%).

Graph Image for Annual population growth, Outback - North SA3, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Source(s): Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2014-15 (cat. no. 3218.0)

With the exception of Carpentaria, all SA2s in Outback - North experienced declines in population in the last two years. In 2014-15, Northern Highlands declined by 1.7%, followed by Mount Isa Region (1.3%) and Mount Isa (0.8%).


Although in most instances the population declines in the five selected SA3s in recent years has been relatively small, it represents a notable turnaround from the period in the mid-to-late-2000s when population in these mining areas increased. It corresponds with a slowdown of the resources boom and a reduction of people employed in the mining industry in Australia.