Many People in Coastal Areas ‘Missing’ on Census Night – Study

A study of coastal populations outside the capital cities has found a large number of people were missing from these communities when the 2011 Census data was collected.

A research team at The University of Adelaide, headed by leading demographer Professor Graeme Hugo, conducted the study for the National Sea Change Taskforce, which represents coastal councils.

Professor Hugo said the findings had important ramifications for coastal councils and their communities.

“Australia has one of the most mobile populations in the world,” he said. “This is a relatively recent trend in many developed countries which makes collecting data for the Census more difficult.”

“It is one of the reasons why there is such a discernible difference between the number of people in coastal communities in winter, when the Census is conducted, and at other times of the year when many people such as absentee property owners and tourists are present.

“In some coastal areas there is a big difference between these population peaks and the permanent population figures which are used to calculate the allocation of resources such as financial assistance grants.”

Professor Hugo said a survey of more than 2,100 non-resident property owners in coastal areas around Australia found that nearly 70% of their properties were not occupied on the night the 2011 census was conducted.

“If the Census was conducted in summer rather than winter a much larger percentage of these properties would be occupied and therefore we would get a totally different picture of the population numbers in coastal council areas,” he said.

The Mornington Peninsula Shire population, for example, would have increased by almost 26,000, Cairns Regional Council by 15,000, Shoalhaven City Council by nearly 12,000 and the City of Mandurah (WA) by more than 10,000.

Professor Hugo said a large percentage of non-resident property owners are baby boomers aged between 45 and 64 at the time of the survey who plan to move permanently to their coastal property.

“Some 60% of people who plan to move to their coastal property within the next two years are baby boomers”, he said. “The percentage of baby boomers planning to make the move between two and five years from now is even higher – 67%.”

Professor Hugo said the study had also analysed use of tourist accommodation, which identified large numbers of tourists staying in coastal areas in addition to the ‘missing’ people linked with properties owned by absentee ratepayers.

Cairns Regional Council, for example, had more than 13,000 tourists staying in the local area, while Shoalhaven City Council had more than 9,000. The local government areas of Busselton, East Gippsland, Eurobodalla and Mornington Peninsula each had more than 3,000 tourists in local accommodation.

“When you add the people ‘missing’ from the Census to the number of tourists staying in these communities you get some idea of the large number of people using local services and facilities who do not show up in the data on permanent population,” Professor Hugo said.

The final study findings will be made available within the next month. The findings will form part of a submission to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is currently conducting a major review of the Census content and methodology. The findings will also help coastal councils better plan to meet future infrastructure and service needs of their communities.

Background information:

The research project was commissioned by the National Sea Change Taskforce to develop and assess methodologies for counting temporary populations, other than permanent populations, in non-metro coastal council areas. This has involved investigating the extent to which existing data collections, including Census data, tourism data and information on properties owned by absentee ratepayers could be used to estimate the scale of temporary populations in these areas. The following local government areas participated as case study areas in the survey of non-resident property owners.

  • City of Busselton (WA)
  • Byron Shire Council (NSW)
  • Cairns Regional Council (QLD)
  • East Gippsland Shire Council (VIC)
  • Eurobodalla Shire Council (NSW)
  • City of Mandurah (WA)
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire (VIC)
  • Shoalhaven City Council (NSW)
  • Surf Coast Shire Council (VIC)