Shaping a Nation

The Treasury and the Department of Home Affairs
Release date

Population growth and immigration over time

Australia has long stood out from other similar nations as a country shaped by strong population growth and migration. Australia’s population growth rate has varied over the last century peaking after the two world wars, then slowing, only to inch up again over the last decade. While births have been the main driver of population growth, there have been times when net overseas migration has contributed a larger share, including during brief periods in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s as well as since 2005.

Migrants traditionally came from the United Kingdom but now come from a wide array of countries, despite UK‑born people remaining Australia’s largest group of overseas‑born residents. Due to changes in Australia’s immigration arrangements over time, migrants to Australia have increasingly been young and skilled. These migrants have softened the impact of Australia’s ageing population, boosted labour force participation, and increased the diversity of Australia’s workforce. The economic and fiscal benefits that migrants have brought to Australia have undoubtedly played a part in Australia’s 26 years of uninterrupted growth.

A bigger population, including through migration, can heighten existing pressures on infrastructure, housing, and the environment. Without continuing action to find innovative solutions, high rates of growth may also intensify issues such as congestion and excessive waste production. None of these issues are new and would exist even in the absence of population growth. However, to fully reap the benefits of immigration and population growth, Australia must continue to explore and address these issues.