What do the latest interstate migration figures tell us?

The great coronavirus migration appears to be continuing to gather pace, according to the latest official data.

In fact, there was the highest number of people moving interstate for quarter of a century in the March quarter, with more than 100,000 migrating to other parts of the nation over the period, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The ABS Regional Internal Migration Estimates for the March quarter this year found that the number of interstate movers, at 104,000, was the highest for a March quarter since 1996.

Queensland gained the most people from net interstate migration (up 7,000) over the period, while Victoria lost the most (down 4,900), closely followed by New South Wales (down 4,500).

Also, there was a net loss a net loss of 11,800 people from Australia’s greater capital cities through internal migration over the period, which was the largest net loss on record since the series started in 2001.

So, does this mean that everyone is moving to the country to eat a lot of peaches?

Well, not really.

Same, same, but different

Data can be a funny thing and can tell you anything you want it to sometimes.

These migration figures, on the surface at least, seem to show an exodus of people from large cities to smaller ones or even to myriad regional locations.

However, when you dig deeper – which you always must do with data at any rate – you will see that the numbers are not really what they seem.

In Greater Sydney, the net internal migration position is pretty much the same as it was pre-pandemic, at a net loss of 8,200 people for the March quarter.

There has been an uptick in the numbers of people leaving Sydney, but there has correspondingly been an increase in the numbers arriving. 

Brisbane, and Queensland more generally, are the location of choice for the majority of interstate migrants at present, but that has always been the case as well. 

According to the ABS, there was a net gain of 7,000 people from internal migration in Queensland in the March quarter, compared with gains of 9,800 people in the previous quarter and 6,300 in the March quarter last year, which was before COVID19 came calling.

Interestingly, interstate migrants were down compared to the previous quarter and departures were up, however, it’s clear that plenty of people from southern cities are making the move to the Sunshine State in droves. 

The thing is, this migration pattern was already under way long before the pandemic, mainly because of housing affordability with the property price differential quite significant at the time.

Queensland has long been the location of choice for interstate migrants, for obvious lifestyle reasons, but housing affordability has always played a role as well.

With strong price growth being recorded there, it will be interesting to see whether that remains a selling point in the future.

Lockdown lethargy

One difference to the usual way of interstate migration is the significant uptick in departures from Victoria, and Melbourne in particular.

In the March quarter, Victoria recorded a net loss of nearly 5000 people from internal migration, compared to a net gain of 590 in the same quarter the year before. 

In net terms, according to the ABS, about two-thirds of the people leaving Victoria headed to the warmer climes of sunny Queensland where lockdowns have been fewer as well. 

In Greater Melbourne, there was a net loss of 8,300 people over the quarter but many of these people actually moved to elsewhere in the state rather than interstate.

What does it all mean?

Well, it means that the pandemic has probably brought forward previously planned migration moves to other parts of the country.

Some people may also be moving to be closer to family members, given lockdowns have prevented many of us from being with our nearest and dearest.

However, only time will tell whether these sorts of migration patterns are long-term, rather than a short-term reaction to a significant and stressful event like a pandemic.

Fundamentally, from a property investment perspective, our capital cities still provide many of the best opportunities for capital growth and wealth creation prospects – and will continue to do so in the years ahead.