What is the role of Net Overseas Migration in population growth and Interstate Migration patterns in the Northern Territory?

Author:Golebiowska, Kate
Position:Report

The key trend preventing the Northern Territory (NT) from achieving consistent annual population growth has been the unpredictability and very high levels of Net Interstate Migration (NIM). Natural Increase (NI) and Net Overseas Migration (NOM) both appear to have provided consistent contributions over the past twenty years. This article examines the contribution of NOM to the NT population growth in the period 1996 to 2006 to establish whether it has in fact mitigated or sustained the high interstate migration rates. Two trends suggest that NOM in the NT has contributed to high levels of population mobility. First, it has been dominated by net long-term movement of temporary rather than settlers. Second, the overseas-born have higher rates of interstate migration from the NT than do the Australian-born. Unfortunately the data on the interstate mobility of overseas-born residents do not permit us to distinguish between people holding long-term and permanent visas. But we believe that some migrants from both groups have participated in this transient population system.

INTRODUCTION

The Northern Territory (NT) is the least populous of all Australian jurisdictions (221,700 in 2008), (1) and it typically experiences large fluctuations in population growth rates. Maintaining population growth is one of the NT Government's objectives and at the same time a means of boosting economic and social development. (2) An expanded population is seen as important to creating business opportunities and supporting social capital growth, which in turn can make the NT a more attractive place to live. Much of the concern around sustaining population growth in the NT focuses on the unpredictability and very high levels of Net Interstate Migration (NIM), with Natural Increase (NI) and Net Overseas Migration (NOM) providing consistent contributions over at least the past twenty years. However, very little is known about how NOM and NIM interact--in other words, how does the method of entry into the NT population influence future migration patterns? This article first examines the contribution of NOM to NT population growth. It then analyses the volume contributed by each of the categories of movement in NOM. This enables us to discuss details concealed in NOM statistics routinely published for states and territories. Finally, this article discusses whether NOM has mitigated or contributed to the observed high interstate migration rates in the NT. Intra-Territory movements are not discussed.

DATA AND CONCEPTS

This article draws on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data to analyse components of the population growth and the categories of movement in NOM in the NT in 1996-97 to 2005-06. To establish whether the proportions of these categories in the NT differ from the national picture, the analysis is replicated for Australia as a whole. The NOM data are based on the 12/12 month rule which was applied up to June quarter 2006, rather than the 12/16 month rule now used, (3) so that analysis of change over time could be performed. NOM is a net gain or loss of the Australian population arising from the difference between international travellers leaving permanently or on a long-term basis and those arriving permanently or on a long-term basis. In order for a person to contribute to NOM they must stay in or be absent from Australia for a continuous period of 12 out of 12 months. (4)

Permanent movement refers to travellers who move to or from Australia on a permanent basis. Permanent arrivals (settlers) include: travellers who hold migrant visas (regardless of intended period of stay); New Zealand citizens who declare an intention to settle and those who are otherwise eligible to settle, for example overseas-born children of Australian citizens. Permanent departures refer to Australian residents (including former settlers) who on departure declare that they are leaving permanently. Long-term arrivals include overseas migrants (visitors and temporary entrants) who intend to stay in Australia for 12 months or more and Australian residents returning from overseas after an absence of 12 months or more. Long-term departures refer to Australian residents who intend to stay abroad for 12 months or more and overseas visitors departing who had stayed 12 months or more in Australia. (5)

In addition to permanent and long-term movement, there is also a category called 'category jumping'. Category jumping is an adjustment reflecting changes between intended and actual duration of stay of travellers to and from Australia: 'such that their classification as short-term or long-term/permanent movers is different at their arrival/departure from that after 12 months'. (6) Short-term movements are less than 12 months in duration. Short-term arrivals comprise overseas visitors who intend to stay in Australia for less than 12 months and Australian residents returning from overseas after an absence of less than 12 months. Short-term departures comprise Australian residents who intend to stay overseas for less than 12 months and overseas visitors departing after a stay in Australia shorter than 12 months. (7) Category jumping became highly volatile in the mid-1990s which led to it being set at zero from 1997-98 to 2000-01 as the ABS was developing a better estimation technique. An improved method for calculating NOM has been used since September quarter 2006 onwards; these new estimates and the ones based on the previous method are not comparable. (8) The period where category jumping was set at zero is covered by the data analysed in this article.

An advantage of this improved method for calculating NOM is that it considers travellers' actual rather than declared duration of stay in and out of Australia. The essence of the new method is the 12/16 month rule. Under this rule travellers are added or subtracted from NOM if they have stayed in or been absent from Australia for 12 months or more over a 16 month period. The 12 months do not have to be continuous. This recognises the increased propensity of long-term visitors to interrupt their stay in Australia with short-term absences. (9) Under the 12/12 month rule, visitors declaring a long-term stay (for example overseas students) were included in NOM, but if they were away for short holidays, they were included in short-term departures...

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