Property Australia

Tallying the scale of disruption

Ken Morrison Ken Morrison August 10, 2021

Our census can often throw up some interesting aberrations, like the thousands of Jedi knights living amongst us or the dozen or so Australians who claim to be born in Antarctica.

But last night’s census will gauge a very real shift in the way Australians are living and working in response to the ongoing pandemic. Shifts that could have a long-term impact or may just be a pandemic phenomenon.

Some things are clear. The number of Australians recorded as working from home will set a dramatic new high and the impact of closed borders will slash the number of new migrants we traditionally record.

Last week’s release of internal migration estimates has given us a sneak preview of some of the disruption caused to our usual population patterns. It’s a storyline so dramatic that even the usually dour ABS statisticians billed it as the Australia’s biggest capital city net outflow.

The pandemic has changed everything, right? A look behind the numbers makes this far less certain.

The secret is to focus on that word ‘net’ and two of the biggest – but temporary – changes to our population which have occurred over the past 18 months.

The first big change is that net overseas migration has flung itself into reverse, dramatically affecting the inbound population flows into many of our big cities, their natural arrival places. A city like Sydney is still shedding people to the rest of the country at a similar rate than normal, it is just not filling itself up with new international arrivals.

The second is the long lockdowns experienced by Melbourne. Traditionally a magnet for both domestic and international inflows, the extended lockdowns in our second largest city has seen less inflows from both and more outflows as weary residents look for other opportunities, particularly in Queensland.

Is this capital city outflow a new trend or a COVID aberration? Both lockdowns and closed international borders are temporary phenomena – vaccines are supposed to bring both to an end.

This suggests that Australia will once again be a magnet for the world’s best and brightest and that the big population engines of our cities will restart.

While I can’t predict the number of at-home Latin speakers or disciples of the ‘Collingwood Football Club’ religion the census will reveal, there is one prediction I am more certain of: that Australia’s love affair with our cities is far from over.