City to grow by a million people
2 June 2008
SYDNEY'S population will grow by nearly 1 million people by 2021 due to the Rudd Government's expansion of the immigration program - putting huge strain on the city's public transport, health, education and housing.
A leading demographer, Bob Birrell, said the immigration intake would pump up the city's population to more than 5.1 million, up from about 4.3 million now and 350,000 more than planners had expected.
His prediction comes on the eve of tomorrow's state budget, in which the beleaguered Iemma Government is expected to pour $58 billion into infrastructure over the next four years.
Dr Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, said the Rudd Government was giving too much weight to Treasury Department advice that raising the intake of skilled migrants would prevent a wages breakout and help cap inflation.
"This is adopting a one-track mind to immigration, one that fails to recognise that Sydney historically absorbs about one-third of the people who arrive in Australia," he said.
"It also fails to recognise the fact that their arrival imposes such huge stresses on existing resources that without the allocation of further funds to accommodate them, it can end of costing taxpayers and governments plenty."
In its budget last month the Rudd Government promised to increase the migration program by 37,500 places to 190,300 a year. Of the additional places, 31,000 are slated for skilled migrants, to meet the need for workers in a tight labour market driven by the resources boom in Western Australia and Queensland.
Dr Birrell said the population explosion would come despite Sydney losing up to 30,000 people a year to other states. He said that, apart from the increased intake, Sydney's population explosion would be driven by newly arrived migrant groups who tended to have higher fertility rates.
The Iemma Government's announcement at the weekend of $46 million extra for maternity wards to cope with a baby boom illustrates some of the effect on state infrastructure of an unexpected population increase.
The Treasurer, Michael Costa, said yesterday that population growth was not just a matter for NSW. "This is a national issue," he said. "As the population grows, so does the demand for more services and infrastructure.
"We'll keep working with the Federal Government to ensure that an appropriate portion of the $20 billion Infrastructure Australia budget goes to addressing issues such as urban congestion."
The Federal Government's boost in migrant numbers and its impact on Sydney infrastructure will have little effect on tomorrow's budget, because the effect will take years to be felt. But it will heavily influence the NSW bid to the Loans Council, now that it has been restored as the controller of Commonwealth and state borrowing limits. And it will play a big role in the NSW bid to the Grants Commission for a bigger share of the GST revenue.
The dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of NSW, Peter Murphy, said federal governments generally took little direct interest in cities. If the Government wanted to pump up immigration, it needed to put money into state and local governments, "and that, typically, is where there has been a breakdown", he said.
Although Sydney's share of new migrants had diminished due to the cost of accommodation and other factors, he said, "the numbers are still large, and Sydney has the largest share of the Australian economy".
ON THEIR WAY