Recently the 2020-21 Migration Program Report, 2020-21 Temporary resident (skilled) report, and the ABS National State and Territory Population report (for the 12 months ending March 2021) have been released and the results are very bad for South Australia, our population and for our post Covid-19 economic recovery.

2020-21 Migration Program Report

The Federal permanent residency (PR) migration program stats are out for 2020-21 and it’s not great news for SA. Despite a national increase of 14% (up from 140,366 in 2019-20 to 160,052), our share in SA fell by 18.6%. The total number of PR grants for SA – 9,769 is our lowest over the past 11 years (maybe longer, data published in this report only goes back to 2010-11)

  • NSW was up by 14.1%
  • Victoria was up by 14.6%
  • QLD was up by 22.2%
  • WA was up by 40.6%
  • SA was down by 18.6%

Reference: 2020-21 Migration Program Report (page 15 and 16 of 58).

2020-21 Temporary resident (skilled) report

The ‘2020-21 Temporary resident (skilled) report’, which reports on the Temporary Skilled Shortage (TSS) subclass 482 visa results, was released by the Department of Home Affairs recently. It showed a 15.3% decrease in 482 visa grants in SA.  The 1,260 x 482 visa grants in South Australia was only 2.9% of the total number of 482 visas granted nationally.  In addition to this, there was a 40% decrease in 482 visa applications lodged in SA.  The SA Government’s high usage of the program continued, however, this fell from 22.2% of all 482 grants in SA (2019-20) to 19.2%.  To put this into context, there were only 630 temporary skilled shortage subclass 482 primary visas granted in 2020/21 – about 12 a week.  It is important to note that many of these visa holders were recruited from overseas to work in defence and now that the French Sub program has been scrapped, many of these visa holders will leave SA and return back home.

Unfortunately, migration outcomes in SA continue to fall which, as we know, will have a negative impact to the State’s economy.

Reference: 2020-21 Temporary resident (skilled) report (page 33 of 50).

ABS National, state and territory population

Last week, the ABS released their “National, state and territory population” stats and it showed that SA only grew by 2,700 people over the last 12-month period.  This is an interesting report, as it the first full 12-month period since Covid19 hit our shores; the data is from March 2020 to March 2021.

SA’s growth of 2700 was comprised of:

  • Natural increase was 5109 (calculation of births and deaths)
  • Net Overseas Migration (NOM) was -3,398
  • Net Interstate Migration (NIM) was 963.

Looking at NIM in more detail:

  • Net interstate arrivals was 25,557
  • Net intestate departures was 24,594

Average long-term departures from SA is about 29,000, but with interstate borders closed and many States in lockdown, less people have left SA than usual.

Fortunately, closed domestic borders and lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney have saved SA from going into negative growth as departures were only 24,594 compared to an average of around 28,000 to 29,000 over recent pre Covid-19 years.  Yes, we have had more people arrive from interstate since Covid-19 hit, but the reason for our Net Interstate Migration gain is due to less people leaving.  It will be interesting to see what happens later this year and early next year when 80% vaccination rates are met and or capital cities and domestic borders reopen.  This could see an additional 3,000 to 4,000 people leave SA who would have normally left last year, plus another 3,000 to 4,000 that would have left this year, plus 3,000 to 4,000 people who we would expect to depart next year.  This could result in 9,000 to 12,000 more people leaving SA than arriving next year.  Due to the way that ABS data is published, we will not see the results of this until September 2024.  I also anticipate that Net Overseas Migration will fall further in the next reporting period as it was around April 2020 when the Prime Minister told temporary visa holders to leave Australia and return home.

Reference: National, state and territory population

SA’s population share of National total.

What lessons can we learn from the past. From December 1971 to March 2021, SA’s total population share has fallen from 9.1% of Australia’s population to 6.8%, a 2.3% decrease over the last 50 years.  If this trend continues, in 50 years’ time our share of the national population would only represent 4.5%.

DateTotal Share of National Population
December 19719.1%
December 19818.8%
December 19918.34%
December 20017.74%
December 20117.31%
December 20167.0%
September 20216.8%

How dire does population and immigration outcomes need to be before the SA Government does something about this?  This is not only a problem of the current Government (even though they have done exceptionally bad), this has been a problem facing South Australia that started after Tom Playford was the Premier of South Australia. To put this into context, South Australia had higher population growth under Thomas Playford in the 1960’s than it does today.

In 1966 (after 20 years of a liberal Government when Thomas Playford was Premier – replaced by a Labour Government in the March 1965 election) SA’s population was 1,094,984, whilst the total national population of Australia was 11,599,498.  Based on this, in 1966 South Australia’s total population share (of the Australian population) was 9.44%.

Today, our population share has fallen to 6.8% and based on current projections, it is likely that we will fall to less than 5% by 2058.

Low population growth and migration outcomes has a significant economic impact on the States economy and the demographic of our workforce and population. 

This will be discussed in detail in the soon to be released BDO Econsearch report. The report is designed to provide evidence to better understand the implications of migration policy on the economy of South Australia. It was motivated by the observation that businesses are struggling to meet their current and future workforce needs due to long-term labour market trends, now being exacerbated by the lack of temporary migrants attributable to COVID-19, and that current migration policy appears to be preventing migrants from being an effective part of the solution.  Most importantly, the report makes a preliminary estimate of the lost opportunity cost in the case of South Australia, in terms of restricted economic activity and growth due to Australia’s existing migration programs and preferred methodologies.

Read the ABS National, state and territory population report.

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