Territorians stand to benefit economically from a growing population. In 2020 our low growth led to a large decline in our Goods and Services Tax allocation and caused us to lose one of our two seats in the lower house of the national parliament, leaving us with by far the highest number of residents per seat in the country.
Top-of-list for the economic and social future of the Northern Territory is addressing our slow population growth rate which has resulted because fewer people have been attracted from interstate to come and live here while more are leaving to live interstate. Fortunately, overseas migration had helped to stabilise population growth in the face of these substantial net migration losses to interstate. But recently overseas migration reduced and, in the face of impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, our overseas migration ‘tap’ has been turned off for now.
In response to our previous population research recommendations, the Government funded a two-year program of research as part of the Northern Territory Population Growth Strategy, 2018 to 2028. The critical challenge for CDU demographers is to identify specific motivations and drivers for individuals and families who come to live in the Territory, stay living here or leave to live elsewhere. Understanding differences in migration drivers by life stages, genders and community sub-groups (for example overseas migrants) is vital to turning around our population futures. The resulting evidence base will feed into policy formation and initiatives to grow the population.
What we're doing
Our two year research program includes the largest ever population survey for the Territory - The Territory and Me. This online survey is gathering information on what draws people to the Territory, what encourages them to stay or consider leaving, as well as asking questions on how connected they feel to their community. The decision-making process about relocating is complex but our research is shedding light on what impacts relocation decisions and what strategies could influence people in different age groups, from different parts of the world and those who are transitioning from one life stage to the next to come and live in the Territory.
So far we have had more than 5,250 survey responses. Having interrogated this rich dataset to within an inch of its life using an array of complex, but informative, statistical techniques, we have already produced four reports on sub-segments we think will help improve Territory population attraction and retention. These include attracting more people from growing overseas migrant communities such as those from the Philippines and India, as well as targeting the retention of our rapidly growing seniors population.
How it helps
Prior to our research, there was little understanding, practical guidance or robust evidence to base policies that could turn-around population growth in the Territory. Our findings from The Territory and Me have already been used by the Territory Government and the business sector in a range of areas and have attracted interest from the media here and overseas. Our results identified that, for current Territory residents, the intention to stay living here varied significantly with their length of residence in the NT. For early-career and mid-career groups intention to stay increased after living here for two years. This increased to five years for pre-retirees and to ten years for retirees. Additionally, using responses from the survey we were also able to estimate at least 4,000 people who reside in the NT at any point in time do not have their address details recorded correctly with Medicare. This directly affects official population estimates for the Territory and in turn our GST allocation. Subsequently, the Territory government has rolled-out a major campaign to encourage Territorians to ensure their Medicare details are up-to-date. Unfortunately, just as this and a range of other initiatives to improve population prospects were being implemented, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With migration flows now reduced to a trickle, there are many questions about how our population might change in future. We are working with government and others to monitor and research migration drivers and sentiments towards the Terrritory as the global pandemic causes flux and change, making previous migration trends, for now at least, redundant.