The latest census showed Canberra is growing. In fact, it’s growing at a quicker rate than the rest of the country.
Around 454,000 people now call the capital home, marking a major jump on the most recent estimated residential population of 432,000 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in June last year.
The ACT now accounts for 1.76 per cent of the country’s population compared to the 1.68 per cent it previously made up.
And according to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, that growth has put pressure on the Territory’s services like schools and hospitals and means the ACT has been “short-changed” in recent years when receiving Commonwealth funding.
Mr Barr’s also renewed calls for a conversation about how many senators the ACT should have but noted this was not a priority.
The Chief Minister described the new figures as a “major shift”, highlighting the ongoing problem of accurately measuring the size of the Territory’s population between each census.
He said he’d be taking the matter up with both the ABS and the new Federal Government.
He added that not knowing the true size of the ACT’s population has been costing Canberrans hundreds of millions of dollars in GST revenue and federal funding agreements struck on the basis of population over the last few years.
Mr Barr said while the new dataset would serve to rectify these issues, it was important to make sure it didn’t happen again given it wasn’t the first time this had occurred.
Based on the number of school enrolments, pressure on the housing market and presentations to hospitals, among other indicators, authorities had assumed the Territory’s population had exceeded the ABS’s estimated count.
“We’d previously been working on the assumption that our population had been undercounted by around 10,000. This time it was 20,000 – that’s a big margin of error,” he said.
Mr Barr acknowledged sustained population growth would continue to put pressure on services like health and education but said additional federal funding would assist this.
He said it would also decrease the size of the ACT’s budget deficit and allow planning to get underway for the next decade with more accuracy.
Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh, who has responsibility for the ABS and is also the Member for Fenner, agreed that it was important to know how many people lived in the ACT to ensure adequate resources.
Mr Leigh described the change in population from last year’s estimates as a “real shock”.
Mr Barr and Mr Leigh said it was likely the population estimates for the ACT are struggling to account for interstate migration as the data on births, deaths and overseas migration is “generally robust.”
“It seems to be missing people in their 20s and 30s … and as Mr Barr has pointed out, that has big revenue implications for the ACT,” Mr Leigh said.
“We don’t check people at the borders – which is a good thing – but it does make it harder to understand how many people are moving in from interstate.”
It wasn’t, however, Mr Leigh’s view that the ACT would receive backdated payments for miscalculated funding arrangements, noting that had never been standard practice.
Instead, he said he would work closely with the ABS to get a better handle on how the Territory’s population is being calculated.