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SA population shrinks as 'brain drain' resumes

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South Australia’s population is shrinking as the number of people moving interstate hits a record high, according to the latest ABS data.

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The figures for the three months to the end of September, released last week, show that South Australia’s population fell by 609 people in the September quarter to 1,772,800.

It is only the second time the state’s population has gone backwards in a quarter, following the loss of 41 people in the September 2020 quarter.

The data is a result of net overseas migration of -1385 for the quarter and net interstate migration of -191.

This was exacerbated by a natural increase in the population of just 967 people, down from 1546 in the June quarter and the second lowest since the ABS started the series in 1981.

The net migration figure was the worst quarterly result on record.

Interstate arrivals in the September quarter reached an all-time high of 9877 up from 8028 in June.

However, this was outstripped by the number of people leaving SA for interstate, which reached 10,088 – also a record.

While the net quarterly loss of 191 people to interstate is well short of the 1000 people who on average left for other states prior to the pandemic, it shows the former Marshall government’s claim to have “reversed the brain drain” was temporary.

Migration Solutions CEO Mark Glazbrook said the net overseas migration numbers and the increase in the number of people leaving SA for interstate “was still a big concern”.

He said he could not see the net overseas migration figure bouncing back any time soon as international arrivals needed to be in Australia for 12 months to count as a migration increase.

“It’s only going to get worse – we’ll definitely have more people coming back into the country like backpackers and international students, which will be good, but the state government continues to run programs based on qualifications and skills but they don’t necessarily have a job lined up when they arrive,” Glazbrook said.

Unemployment rates in South Australia have been at historic lows during the pandemic, exposing labour shortages that have sparked calls from the Committee for Adelaide to increase the state’s population to 2 million by 2030.

Glazbrook said the positive increase of 567 people in net interstate migration for the 12 months to September 30  period was not really a significant number compared to the thousands leaving each year before the pandemic.

He said the Marshall government’s claim that it had reversed the brain drain was somewhat of a misrepresentation of the statistics.

“I think COVID reversed the brain drain,” Glazbrook said.

“And we’re talking about a period in time when the two biggest destinations where people leave South Australia to live – Melbourne and Sydney – were both in lockdown.

“The government did well, it was a safe place to live, but you could migrate to Melbourne and be in lockdown for 12 months or you could live quite freely in South Australia and I think a lot of people chose to come here where it was easier to live and work.

“Now that borders have reopened we are starting to see that trend change and I would expect that to continue.”

Nationwide, Australia’s population grew by just 12,100 in the quarter to 25,750,198 people at September 30.

For the 12 months to the end of September, Australia’s population grew by 68,900 and SA’s population was up by 2600.

Victoria lost 32,700 people and Queensland added 57,800 residents.

For the year, South Australia had a natural population increase of 5448 as births outnumbered deaths by 19,602 to 14,154.

But overseas departures of 9132 were significantly higher than arrivals of  5674 and interstate arrivals for the year slightly outnumbered departures by 31,450 to 30,889.

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