Over the next 30 years, Australia will grow by an additional 10 million people which is the equivalent of 65 Darwins. Infrastructure Australia executive director, Peter Colacino, explains why this growth is so important.

Beyond the potential growing pains, this population growth is a good foundation for Australia's future. It's important to take a “big picture” view of the nation's infrastructure needs as we plan for a bigger Australia.

Growth will help boost productivity, strengthen labour markets, enhance diversity and build our communities.
Australia’s economy is increasingly urbanised.

Last year, our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – contributed more than 60 per cent of our national GDP. And this will increase, with three quarters of future population growth occurring in these four cities.

To maximise the economic opportunities of population growth, we need to ensure our cities are places where people want to live.

Rapid population growth, if unplanned and uncoordinated has the potential to threaten our cities’ liveability and economic prosperity.

Sydney, for example, will accommodate an extra 2.7 million people over the next three decades. This means 2.5 million additional daily journeys on the city’s roads and 950,000 additional daily journeys on public transport.

The existing Sydney trains network carries one million people while the metro and outer metro bus service carries just under 900,000.

Infrastructure Australia has modelled three separate growth scenarios – low, medium and high-density versions of the future. Under all scenarios, the percent of jobs within 30 minutes of residents decreased, as did access to green space.

Meanwhile, congestion almost doubled under all scenarios, but grew most rapidly under a high-density scenario.

Public transport use increased by 50 per cent, however not enough to keep pace with increased demand. Under all growth scenarios, our research found the use and performance of public transport across the cities must improve to cater for growth.

In our big cities, Infrastructure Australia has identified three key areas of action: investment in public transport, access to green space and providing affordable and diverse housing. However, two-speed growth means smaller cities face a different set of challenges.

Smaller cities will contribute around one tenth of Australia's forecast population growth over the next 30 years.

Rather than accommodating growth, the challenge is often catalysing it. Some cities – Geelong, Toowoomba, the Gold and Sunshine coasts – will grow in part because of their role as satellite cities for their neighbours.

Other cities, such as, Hobart, Adelaide and regional centres such as Wagga Wagga are forecast to grow more slowly.

In order for smaller cities to capture their share of the national population growth, they must strive to define a distinct local identity. To avoid becoming “dormitory suburbs”, smaller cities must define their own unique character.

For example, the recent revitalisation of Newcastle’s CBD is a success story, which includes a new start-up and technology industry cluster, a redesigned bus network, a new tram, and a community, industry and business revitalisation campaign.

The revitalisation has changed the character of the city – breaking with the industrial past and defining a new confident identity.

About the Author

Peter Coacino is the executive director of policy and research at Infrastructure Australia. The role of Infrastructure Australia, which is an independent statutory body, is to prioritise and progress nationally significant infrastructure. Coacino's speech (published here) was delivered at The Property Congress, a Property Council of Australia event that was held in the Top End.

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