Planning and investment vital to Melbourne’s growth

In its relatively brief history, Melbourne has become a truly vibrant and mostly beautiful city. Fed by recurrent waves of migration, it is now widely considered the most culturally attuned and most diverse city in Australia, the literary capital of the nation, a fairly laid-back metropolis, and a food-lovers’ heaven that happens to have the best live music.

It is also a rapidly growing city, hosting about 5 million people across more than 10,000 square kilometres of residential and commercial areas. While many Melburnians rightly brag about their city’s joys and benefits, a million more are expected to join them over the next decade.

A view of Melbourne’s skyline from Brighton beach.Credit:Eddie Jim

The latest Centre for Population projection has reaffirmed the population of Melbourne’s greater metropolitan region is likely to exceed that of Sydney by about 2031, swelling from current levels of about 5 million to reach 6.1 million by 2032-2033.

Put another way, Melbourne’s population will be 20 per cent bigger 10 years from now. In turn, Victoria’s population is forecast to increase from current levels of about 6.6 million to 7.8 million by June 2033.

That more or less puts the state back on the growth path before the pandemic, before debilitating lockdowns and extraordinary border closures triggered a mini exodus resulting in a 1.6 per cent slippage in population.

And with much of the growth coming from overseas, as opposed to higher birth rates, or from people moving interstate, there will be challenges.

How that population growth is to be managed, and whether the city’s transport, education, health and other essential public infrastructure can cope with the increased demand, are questions that must be foremost in policy decisions at state, federal and local levels.

The rationale for increased migration to Australia and the economic benefits was the focus of a national inquiry into Australia’s migrant intake by the Productivity Commission in 2016.

The report, which never garnered a formal response from the Morrison government, called for a recalibration of the skilled migration program to, in effect, “raise the bar” and focus more tightly on in-demand competencies and skills, and younger migrants.

When the Albanese government in September announced it would increase the permanent migration program to 195,000 places a year, the move was strongly welcomed by the business community, which desperately needs highly- and diversely-skilled workers if Australian business is to compete effectively with global peers and, indeed, excel.

Skilled migration is sound and economically necessary on a national basis. More locally, though, can Melbourne afford to sprawl further when communities in the outer urban areas are begging for basic infrastructure and services?

Becoming the biggest city in Australia does not necessarily mean this will be a better city if more is not done to cater for the expected population growth.

Indeed, Melbourne’s existing woes will worsen if federal, state and local governments dither or fail to generate appropriate solutions, long-term planning, and investment in much-needed facilities for areas beyond the inner and mid-range suburbs.

Outer areas need more and better hospitals, medical clinics, mental health and support services, more schools, better transport links, and close access to sporting and recreation facilities such as community swimming pools and ovals.

Over the years, The Sunday Age has reported on many emerging choke-points the length and breadth of the city. We have reported on how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many of us work and travel: working from home, shifting our focus to local businesses and services, limiting use of public transport, avoiding ‘peak hour’ travel, and more.

The enormous transport infrastructure development and renewal program pursued by the Andrews government – including the Metro Tunnel and West Gate Tunnel – will greatly assist public transport users, and the railway crossing removal program has eased congestion and danger at many junctions.

But not all of those projects – such as the Suburban Rail proposal – do enough to address the areas that are most underserved by public transport and have had the biggest population increases in recent years.

Unconstrained population growth, particularly when it is not regionally dispersed and not sufficiently focused on the skill-sets needed to invigorate and expand the existing workforce, can prove costly on economic, social and environmental grounds.

In its 2016 report, the Productivity Commission noted Australia’s immigration policy is its population policy. While immigration brings undoubted economic benefits, how it is managed in practice is vital to the wellbeing of cities.

Michael Bachelard sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article