IT would appear there has been a lot of planning and plotting for population growth & real estate by some in Sydney … over decades … and it really took off with the 2012 planning law changes … regardless of the amenity of Sydneysiders …

Key Points …

-within a year Melbourne’s population grew by 120,000, or 327 people a day

.Greater Sydney added 93,000 residents, or 256 people daily

-the 2 cities account for 40% of Australia’s 25 million

270,000 temporary and permanent migrants will arrive in Australia in 2019

not just road congestion; public transport overcrowding is tipped to grow five-fold

-heat island effect as concrete, apartments replace playing fields, parks, trees, gardens and the quarter acre block

-inner city schools were closed by govts in 1990s and early 2000s due to lack of demand

.now a large number of school children … where have they come from?

-the influx into inner, older suburbs is putting pressure on pipes; 75 even 100 years old; how soon before they burst?

DESPITE all of this … more and more want to live in our cities … it’s a global phenomenon … Vancouver, Seattle, London, Paris ….throughout Europe, Asia … is it because of China’s Millions of High Net Worth?

Growing pains: Australia’s squeezed suburbs

By Eryk Bagshaw and Shane Wright

AUGUST 17, 2019

It took Treasurer Josh Frydenberg 34 minutes to deliver his first budget to the House of Representatives in early April.

*As he outlined the government’s plans to spend an extra $23 billion on infrastructure to cope with a growing nation, an additional 36 people moved to Australia from a distant land.

In the year leading up to his speech, in the Treasurer’s home town of Melbourne, the total population swelled by almost 120,000, or 327 people a day.

*The greater Sydney area added more than 93,000 residents, or 256 people daily.

Australia's suburbs are growing at an unprecedented rate.

Over the past decade, the population in suburbs such as Parklea in Sydney’s north-west has grown by 200 per cent, and by 84 per cent in Waterloo in the city centre, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data analysed by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. 

In Melbourne, the population in Tarneit, west of the city centre, has grown by 372 per cent23 times the national average of 16 per cent – and almost double that in nearby Truganina.

It’s a phenomenon that is stretching the urban fringe around the east coast, and sending inner-city suburbs such as Docklands and Waterloo skywards.

The two cities alone account for 40 per cent of Australia’s 25 million-strong population but planning has failed to keep pace with their growth – leaving schools, water, health and transport services creaking, and millions of commuters stuck in traffic or opting for a coastal change.

Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romilly Madew says the lack of planning means the economy has a lot of catching up to do. She has urged the Morrison government to heed the calls of the Reserve Bank of Australia to ramp up infrastructure spending.

“There is an unprecedented pressure on infrastructure services,” Madew says. “The infrastructure boom is the new normal.”

This week, the regulator released its latest audit of the nation’s infrastructure.

*Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by federal, state and local governments since the last audit four years ago, the 640-page report found it was nowhere near enough.


NSW population increases by suburb 2006-2016

Source: ABS (SA2 areas)


A day later, the federal government announced the first major inquiry into Australia’s migration program in 30 years.

While some government MPs insist it will be focused on diverting migrants to the regions, others believe the inquiry’s broad terms of reference allow it to look deeply at infrastructure and population pressures across the country.

*The Morrison government has pledged to ease urban congestion by slashing the permanent intake by 30,000 places, but federal budget figures show more than 270,000 temporary and permanent migrants will arrive in Australia in 2019, up from 259,000 last year and an increase of 40,000 on what was forecast in last year’s budget.

EY’s global immigration leader, Wayne Parcell, says the time is right to revisit a migration program “that is heavily influenced by the old economy” and “historic migration settlement patterns of the mid-20th century that have now become more fluid”.

*One government MP was more blunt: “This is the chink in the population armour.”

Infrastructure Australia’s executive director of policy and research, Peter Colacino, says: “We need an idea of the country that we want and then define the steps to get there.”

“Rather than looking back and expecting the same to continue, the key is to look forward and to understand the type of country that we are likely to see because of the trends that we have identified.”


Take the experience of residents of Tarneit and Truganina, who can access the Melbourne central business district on either of two roads – the Princes Freeway or the M80 Ring Road via the Western Highway. 

According to Infrastructure Australia, both roads will remain among the 10 most congested in Melbourne by 2031.

*It’s little better in Sydney. Workers in Parklea wanting to head north out of the city will face one of the most congested roads, the M2, while those in Waterloo will have a choice of roads-come-carparks on either the M1, the Eastern Distributor or the Cahill Expressway.

Illustration: Matt Golding
Illustration: Matt GoldingCREDIT:

Worse still, by 2031, it will be much more common for peak congestion to be encountered in both directions on major routes in Sydney and Melbourne.

*And it’s not just congestion on the roads. Public transport overcrowding is tipped to grow five-fold, even with the current works under way in Sydney and Melbourne.

Changing services

It all means fewer people will be able or willing to travel far to essential services or social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.


Road congestion is set to cost the country almost $40 billion a year without a substantial lift in spending and planning, Infrastructure Australia has warned

Sydney, Melbourne coming to a standstill as infrastructure struggles

*In Blacktown in Sydney’s west, where more than 53,000 people have moved in over the past decade, you can drop into a super GP for dialysis after doing your shopping. There are now 60 of them around the country.

Many more will be needed by 2031 to stop patients using hospitals when they aren’t essential and clogging up roads on the way there.

*In some cases, technological and societal changes are ahead of our existing infrastructure.

The advent of home shopping, particularly for groceries, is a boon for consumers who think there are better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than plying the aisles of Coles or Woolworths.

*But the home delivery of bags of oranges, milk and breakfast cereal means an explosion in the number of trucks on our suburban roads. Those are roads that have, over the years, become increasingly narrow as councils have sought to maximise the number of properties in new suburbs.

Hotting up

That phenomenon has also created inner-city “heat islands”suburbs with little tree cover and miles of concrete. The end of the quarter-acre block, and the large number of people moving into units, means the natural cooling elements of trees and parks are being lost.

Melbourne’s population growth

Percentage growth from 2006 to 2016 

-20% 100%+


*Parts of Canterbury, Holroyd and Blacktown in Sydney all experience temperatures up to 6 degrees hotter than they should because they don’t have enough green space. The same is true of a vast stretch between Sunbury and Melton in Melbourne.

“This is because the heat of the sun is absorbed and not reflected by urban surfaces such as buildings, car parks and roads,” Infrastructure Australia found. “Human activities, such as traffic and the use of air conditioning, also increase the waste heat generated.”

*It’s not just clogged roads or standing-room only trams and buses that require a response. In some of our suburban schools, lines of demountable classrooms have replaced football fields and netball courts.

Since 2008, the number of schools with fewer than 300 students has fallen more than 10 per cent. The number with more than 300 students has climbed almost 12 per cent.


Suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne where population is booming.

Melbourne and Sydney suburbs at ‘tipping point’ as population soars

Between the 2016 and 2017 school years alone, the nation’s 6228 primary schools, 1408 secondary schools, 1336 combined schools and 472 specialist institutions added 51,000 students, pushing the student population above 3.9 million.

Infrastructure Australia noted that the demountables, many of which had been in place for a decade or longer, were a sign that current school capacity was inadequate for the projected demand in our largest cities.

Caught on the hop

Authorities have been caught on the hop. Particularly in the inner suburbs, where two-thirds of growth is now expected to occur.

The increase in unit living closer to city CBDs has meant a lift in demand for services in areas where state governments believed interest was falling away.

*”Some parts of inner Sydney and Melbourne currently have a large number of school-aged children but many schools were closed by governments in the 1990s and early 2000s due to a temporary lack of demand and an assumption that families would not reside in inner-city areas,” it found.


Docklands 2006 and 2019.

Source: Google Earth

Water pressure

*Something as vital to our cities as water is also suffering. Here, it’s a combination of growing population pressure, poor government policy, climate change and ageing infrastructure.

*The influx of people into inner, older suburbs is putting pressure on a network of pipes that can be up to 75 years old.

*”As our population grows, pressure grows and the system will eventually break,” Colciano says.

Sea change

*For some residents, it will all become too much. A pattern is already emerging as flexible work allows more people to make a sea change to satellite areas like Torquay off the Great Ocean Road in Victoria and Thirroul close to Wollongong and an hour out of Sydney.

“We see people moving from our cities to small coastal communities so you have this kind of dual growth story of big cities and small coastal centres,” Colacino says.


Play video2:17Growing cities

The populations of Sydney and Melbourne have swelled over last decade, increasing pressure on infrastructure and transport.

“And with that there is just this changing need on the infrastructure network that is associated with it.

That starts with distributing access to technology like the national broadband network evenly across income divides and geography.

“The digital inclusivity of our lowest-income quintile is one-third below the national average,” Infrastructure Australia found.

New technologies are enabling substantial improvements to user experience and quality of life outcomes, but these benefits are not being shared by all Australians.”

There is an unprecedented pressure on infrastructure services. The infrastructure boom is the new normal.

Infrastructure Australia’s Romilly Madew

City slickers

*Despite that trend, it’s nothing compared to the sheer volume of Australians who want to live in a handful of our major cities. Almost seven out of every 10 people live in our capital cities, with the proportion growing.

*Bernard Baffour, from the Australian National University’s School of Demography, notes it’s a global phenomenon.

Despite the traffic, the heat, the road rage and the difficulty of life in a big city, that’s what most of us want.

“People just want to live in the capital cities and you have to expect that’s what is going to continue to happen,” he says.

Grinding to a halt

Sydney’s most congested roads (user experience) 2031



Share of journey time due to congestion Delay per vehicle

1 North Sydney to Sydney CBD via Sydney Harbour Tunnel (S/B)84%19 mins

2 Mount Druitt to Westmead via M4 (E/B)75%25 mins

3 Liverpool to Sydney Airport via M5 (E/B)74%49 mins

4 Ashfield to Sydney CBD via City West Link / Anzac Bridge (E/B)73%27 min

5 Artarmon to Surry Hills via Pacific Highway / Sydney Harbour Bridge / Cahill Expressway / Eastern Distributor (S/B)72%25 mins


Share of journey time due to congestionDelay per vehicle
1Sydney CBD to North Sydney via Sydney Harbour Tunnel (N/B)81%15 mins
2North Sydney to Sydney CBD via Sydney Harbour Tunnel (S/B)79%14 mins
3Westmead to Eastern Creek via M4 (W/B)76%25 mins
4Chatswood to Narraweena via Warringah Road (E/B)72%32 mins
5Sydney CBD to Ashfield via Anzac Bridge / City West Link (W/B)69%22 mins

Note: N/B, S/B, W/B and E/B represent northbound, southbound, westbound and eastbound, respectively. 


Eryk Bagshaw

Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Shane Wright

Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia's suburbs are growing at an unprecedented rate.