by Dafyd Martindale
After more than 13 years of growing by an average 1.3 per cent per annum, the South Burnett’s population has gone into decline since 2014, according to Australian Bureau Of Statistics data.
There are now 124 fewer people in the region than there were four years ago, with the South Burnett’s population dropping from 32,699 in mid-2013 to 32,574 by June last year.
This is well below the anticipated 33,759 to 36,164 regional population the State Government was forecasting in 2009.
It is also a trend none of our neighbours shares.
The same ABS data shows that Somerset, Toowoomba, Western Downs, the North Burnett and Gympie council areas have all experienced population growth of between 1.7 per cent and 5.3 per cent during the same four years.
The reasons for the region’s population decline are unclear, but one possibility is the South Burnett is being impacted by the same “demographic bubble” that has been causing the populations of some Brisbane suburbs to decline over the past five years.
Brisbane’s population is estimated to have expanded by 23.7 per cent between 2006 and 2016, with the populations of some high-rise suburbs such as South Brisbane, Hamilton, Newstead and Fortitude Valley surging as much as 52 per cent.
But other Brisbane suburbs – such as Riverview, Woodridge, Kenmore, Alexandra Hills and Slacks Creek – have had population declines of between 1.1 per cent and 8.7 per cent over the past five years.
Demographers believe the root cause of these declines is they all have an ageing population, which leads to a large number of single-person households.
Nearly 20 per cent of residents at Riverview are aged over 65 years, ABS data shows, and other declining Brisbane suburbs are similar.
In the South Burnett, 22.9 per cent of residents were aged over 65 in 2016.
This compares with 18.66 per cent in 2011, 16.11 per cent in 2006 and 13.9 per cent in 2001.
The number of single-person households in the region also grew from 23.75 per cent in 2001 to 28.22 per cent in 2016, a net increase of more than 1000 homes.
Population decline is important because it affects regional economies.
For example, councils do not have a growing base of ratepayers across which to spread costs, so the impacts of rate rises on individual households steadily gets stronger.
Local businesses have fewer customers to sell to, which in turn limits their ability to create jobs. And, in some cases, it can force them to close their doors.
And since many State and Federal government services are funded based on population, a declining population base can lead to cutbacks in government funding and fewer services, not more, if the decline isn’t halted.