AUSTRALIA'S population growth is in free fall, with net immigration slumping 37 per cent year on year in the March quarter to its lowest level in years.
The Bureau of Statistics reports that net immigration plummeted from 98,138 in March 2009 to just 61,780 in the same quarter this year. It is the lowest figure for a March quarter since the bureau adopted new definitions in 2006.
For the entire year to March, net overseas migration plunged by 25 per cent, from 320,362 in 2009 to 241,352 this year. Most of that fall was in the last six months, after the Rudd government closed the back door allowing foreign students in low-level courses to stay on as permanent migrants.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged in the recent election campaign to cut net overseas immigration to 170,000 by 2012. The bureau figures suggest most of that had already been achieved by March, with the trend suggesting further falls in coming months.
Total population growth for the year to March fell by 15 per cent, from a record 471,475 in the year to March 2009 to 403,082 a year later. Australia's population growth rate dropped from 2.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent.
Lower population growth reduces pressure on house prices and urban infrastructure, such as crowding on trains and traffic congestion. But it also implies slower economic growth, and means fewer skilled workers for business. The plunge in immigration was partly offset by a record number of births, which soared to 303,585 as Australia's fertility rate continues to climb towards an average of two children per woman.
By contrast, the death rate has continued its fall to new record lows. Despite the rapid population growth, deaths in the year to March fell from 143,347 to 141,755. Victoria's death toll fell by 2.2 per cent, twice as much as the national average.
The slump in migration and population growth was most intense in resource states. In the March quarter, net overseas migration to Victoria and New South Wales was down 34 per cent in both states, compared with a 48 per cent fall in Western Australia and a 44 per cent fall in Queensland.
It comes as net interstate migration to Queensland has almost ground to halt. In the March quarter the bureau estimates only a net 1430 people moved north, the lowest quarterly figure since 1981.
In an almost unprecedented event, Queenslanders moving to Victoria in the March quarter outnumbered Victorians moving to Queensland. While 4280 Victorians moved north, 4471 Queenslanders moved south.
For the year to March, overall, 2004 more people moved to Victoria from other states than moved out of Victoria to other states. The state's population has now topped 5.5 million, growing by 106,790 or just under 2 per cent. WA was the fastest-growing state for the year to March, growing 2.3 per cent.
POPULATION GROWTH FALLING FAST
YEAR TO MARCH CHANGE
2009 2010 TOTAL %
Migration 320,362 241,352 79,010 25
(Births minus death) 151,113 161,730 10,617 7
TOTAL 471,475 403,082 68,393 15
Migration - o/s 85,422 68,175 17,247 20
Interstate 288 2004 2292
Natural increase 34,670 36,611 1941 6
TOTAL 119,804 106,790 13,014 11
ALL FIGURES NET
SOURCE: BUREAU OF STATISTICS.