AUSTRALIA population growth is set to be at its lowest in more than a hundred years, with overseas migration falling to all time lows due to COVID-19 - and the impact will be most noticeable in regional areas.
The startling statistic was revealed in the parliamentary inquiry into regional Australia, which is investigating a wide range of matters affecting rural areas.
The growth rate is expected to halve this financial year, from 1.2 per cent in 2019-20 to 0.6 per cent in 2020-21, the senate committee heard from the Treasury's Centre for Population.
The overall drop will be driven by a significant fall in net overseas migration, which is estimated to fall from 232,000 in 2018-19 to 154,000 in 2019-20, and again to just 31,000 in 2020-21.
Centre for Population manager Adi Smith said it was "too early to tell" what the long-term effects of COVID-19 would be on overall regional population growth.
"But with net overseas migration expected to fall, regions that rely on overseas migration for population growth will be hardest hit," Mr Smith said.
Outside of the capital cities, migrants contributed 26 per cent of the population growth in regional Australia.
Migrants contributed more than 50 per cent of the population growth in a number of regions including New England and the Riverina in NSW, Warrnambool and the north west of Victoria together with the wheat belt and the resource rich southern part of the outback in WA.
In Queensland, migrants contributed 30 per cent of the population increase in Toowoomba and Cairns, and around a quarter or more in central Queensland, the Sunshine Coast and the Darling Downs.
The inquiry still has a number of public hearings lined up before the committee delivers a final report at the end of March 2021.