Melbourne is now Australia’s biggest city – on a technicality

Posted by  D&M Research Team

POSTED ON  April 17, 2023

Melbourne has overtaken Sydney as Australia’s largest city in terms of population, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The primary reason behind this shift is a boundary change that occurred after the 2021 census.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) employs several methods to measure urban populations, one of which is the Significant Urban Area classification. This method encompasses all contiguous urban centres with populations exceeding 10,000 residents.

Following the 2021 census, Melbourne’s Significant Urban Area was expanded to include the district of Melton, a rapidly growing region on the city’s northwestern fringe. This addition increased Melbourne’s population to 4,875,400 in June 2021, placing it slightly ahead of Sydney’s 4,856,700.

While Greater Sydney, which has different boundaries, maintains a larger population than Greater Melbourne, this lead is predicted to last only a few more years. Recent boundary changes reveal that Melbourne’s Significant Urban Area had surpassed Sydney’s equivalent back in 2018. The population gap in Melbourne’s favour has since fluctuated due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban population growth.

Melbourne snatches the title of Australia’s largest city

The primary factor behind Melbourne’s population surge is the rapid growth on the city’s western fringe, which led to the inclusion of Melton in the Significant Urban Area classification. The population of the Melton region grew by 61% between 2011 and 2021.

Another metric commonly used for measuring urban populations is the Greater Capital Cities Statistical Area. By this measure, Greater Sydney, which includes the Central Coast, had a population of 5.26 million in June 2021, compared to Greater Melbourne’s 4.98 million. However, the federal government projects that Greater Melbourne’s population will overtake Greater Sydney’s by 2031-32.

Sydney has held the title of Australia’s most populous city since approximately 1902, but the gap between the two cities has been steadily closing. The primary reason for Melbourne’s faster growth is the difference in net internal migration. Sydney has experienced significant losses of residents to other parts of Australia, while Melbourne has gained population through internal migration.

While Melbourne is set to surpass Sydney as Australia’s largest city, it is important to acknowledge that New South Wales remains the most populous state by a significant margin. With a population of 8.23 million, New South Wales is approximately 1.5 million larger than Victoria, which has a population of 6.72 million.


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