ACT News

It's on for young and old as Canberra closes in on 400,000

Canberra's population is expected to surge past 400,000 in 2016 as the city shrugs off the worst of the public service cuts and decades-old demographic trends become things of the past.

And in further signs of changing times, some of the stereotypes associated with Canberra, the retiring public servants leaving for the coast, the graduating uni student following the work to the bigger cities, will have to be set aside, says Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

People gather for the Australia Day fireworks on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra's population was hovering ...
People gather for the Australia Day fireworks on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra's population was hovering around 392,000 in the middle of 2015 and will probably reach 400,000 within the next 12 months. Photo: Melissa Adams

The ACT government says the territory's population was hovering around 392,000 in the middle of 2015 and the present growth trend of about 6000 souls each year should tip the territory's population over 400,000 within the next 12 months.

Analysts believe the growth is being driven by young people looking to enter the workforce, who are less likely to leave town than in previous decades, and those coming to the end of their working lives, who are more likely to stay.

The attraction for young jobseekers is simple, a more diverse economy that now offers more than a choice between the public sector and service industry work.

For the retirees the factors are more complex, with family ties, access to big city medical care and even the ebbs and flows of the coastal real estate market all thought to be playing a role.


The latest government demographic data says Canberrans aged 65 and over have consistently been the strongest growing segment of the territory's population since 2009, while a decline in interstate migration looks to have been driven by Canberrans aged between 15 and 24 years.

The territory government also cites growing numbers of international migrants choosing to call Canberra home as a factor in the growth.

But "net interstate migration" is still flowing in the wrong direction, according to the Chief Minister, although it is nothing like the uneasy times of 2014 and 2015.

"The one thing that's been dragging it [population growth] down has been more people leaving to go elsewhere in Australia than coming here from elsewhere in Australia," Mr Barr told the Canberra Times.

"But at peak-Abbott, when he was sacking people at a rapid rate of knots, we were a losing a lot of people interstate, but that's slowed to a trickle, so the net impact of that is almost zero.

"There was a point, in our boom times, when we were adding nearly 10,000 new residents a year; that's more like 5000 or 6000 at the moment.

"So Canberra will hit 400,000 people this year, I imagine.

"We were sitting at 392,000 halfway through last year and that is an important factor in terms of underpinning the territory's economy and economic base."

The Chief Minister outlined some reasons why he and his advisors believed Canberra was more attractive now to retirees than had been the case in the past.

"Number one is the family connections; the city is 100 years old and there's likely to be three generations of one family in the city now in a way that there wasn't before.

"Back in the 1980s people came here to work and then when they retired, they went back to where they had come from."

Mr Barr also pointed out the NSW south coast real estate was not what it used to be.

"The best and cheapest real estate on the NSW south coast has already been acquired now," the Chief Minister said.

"So when you sold your Canberra property, and then you could buy something on the coast and then have a lot of money left over, those opportunities are very scarce now."