Qld Councils & the 80/20 rule – 81% of Queenslanders live in just 12 out of 78 LGAs

In the final week of 2018, the Brisbane Times published an article The capital cities that ate Australia, which opened:

They are the capital cities eating up the rest of Australia.

Already home to more than two-thirds of the nation’s 25 million residents, each capital city will soon dominate their respective state or territory in a way that will challenge Australia’s economic and political landscape.

Special projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Hobart will soon account for at least half the population in each of their respective jurisdictions.

At the moment, in contrast to the capitals in other states, both the Brisbane metro area (at 49% of state population) and Hobart (at 44%) account for under half of their state populations. However, in my view, we should instead consider Brisbane, the Gold Coast and increasingly the Sunshine Coast as an SEQ metropolis, the 200km City as UQ Emeritus Professor Peter Spearritt once called it (see my 2015 post Urban sprawl filling in the 200km City).

Two-in-three Queenslanders live in the 200km City (e.g. see chart below, which shows the SEQ local government areas filling the top positions in the ranking of Queensland’s Local Government Areas by population size). The state seems much less decentralised when considering that fact (also see my Fact check: Does a majority of Qld’s population live outside SEQ?).


Notice how the populations of the LGAs drop off rapidly as you go down the ranking from the top. While Brisbane LGA has 1.2 million people, the tenth largest LGA Redland has around 155,000, and there is a long tail of LGAs with much smaller populations. Out of Queensland’s 78 LGAs, only 12 have populations greater than 100,000 (i.e. Fraser Coast and above in the chart above). These 12 largest LGAs, 15% of total LGAs, account for 81% of the total Queensland population. Yes, this is a nice illustration of the so-called 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle.

The 20 smallest LGAs all have fewer than 1,300 people (see chart below). They are all remote rural or Indigenous communities. You can find all the data I use to construct these charts on the ABS website by the way.


It may be that some further amalgamations of councils are necessary in the interests of financial sustainability and governance, although I should note the financial benefits of council amalgamations have been vigorously contested (see this Queensland Times article).

Also, thinking more expansively, we could consider splitting the state into Northern and Southern Queensland, with the latter incorporating Tweed Heads, which the ABS already considers as part of the same significant urban area as the Gold Coast (see chart below). Incidentally, this would be one way of solving the daylight saving time difference across the border.


Note the ABS includes Ipswich and Logan as part of the Brisbane significant urban area. I know that some of my readers living in Ipswich and Logan would disagree with this treatment, as suggested by their comments on the all-time most viewed QEW post Top twenty largest cities and towns in Qld by population.

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8 Responses to Qld Councils & the 80/20 rule – 81% of Queenslanders live in just 12 out of 78 LGAs

  1. Keiran Travers says:

    Great article Gene. Further, amalgamations seem a good idea however if one council that has no money mergers with another with no money than there will be tough time for both parties. Further, there are few requests for de-amalgamation at the moment which if they occur will bring unncessary operational costs

  2. cairnseconomy says:

    Have long thought that the ABS division of Queensland into ‘Greater Brisbane’ and “Rest of State” is all but useless for any practical purpose.

    The same though can also apply to NSW where the Newcastle -Sydney-Wollongong conurbation can easily be wrapped together. The Sydney Greater City Capital Area at ABS already extends to the southern shore of Lake Macquarie.

    Re council amalgamations a closer look at Douglas de-amalgamation could be warranted. They were the most dubious and while they seem to be doing ok there were some weird financial engineering concepts around depreciation funding floated in the first budget post de-amalgamation. Wish I was more expert on council budgets but suspect a typical Douglas ratepayer is paying more than if they had stayed amalgamated with Cairns.

  3. John Yesberg says:

    If you were splitting Queensland into North and South, I don’t think you’d need to incorporate Tweed Heads into South Queensland to solve timezone issues at the border, because SQ would adopt daylight time. The problems would arise at the NQ/SQ border, rather than SQ/NSW.

  4. Michael Willis says:

    Gene, it seems the concentration will be reinforced, if the most recent Qld government statistician’s report is any guide. State population growth is expected to be 2.3m from 2016 to 2041, of which 1.3m is in the greater Brisbane region alone (defined as Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Beaudesert and Moreton Bay)… http://www.qgso.qld.gov.au/products/reports/qld-govt-pop-proj/index.php
    If you add in the Gold & Sunshine Coasts, your Pareto principle looks like it will be even more concentrated, with the South East corner taking well over 80% of the state’s growth.
    This presents some challenges for future governments in terms of infrastructure, with transport and health services (in particular) already pressured by the current growth. The state debt level will compound this challenge.
    Of course, there are opportunities for decentralisation of government services and hubs into regional and near-coastal cities, many of which offer great lifestyles. It may take some political will and good economic planning to achieve that – but hopefully fewer white elephant stadiums!
    Thanks for yet another great paper!

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