Melbourne tipped to become our biggest city, Queensland our biggest state

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate Melbourne may eclipse Sydney as the biggest city in Australia by 2056, with a total population of up to eight million.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate Melbourne may eclipse Sydney as the biggest city in Australia by 2056, with a total population of up to eight million.

The “Population Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2101” report also predicts Queensland’s population may overtake Victoria’s by 2035 and Perth will become the fastest-growing city, with the population set to more than double between now and 2056.

But while views differ over the likelihood of the report’s projections, experts are united in calls for more infrastructure spending.

Bob Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, says the possibility these figures will become reality is “highly unlikely”.

“These projections are extremely unlikely because they’ve been pitched a time when we have record level of migration and a spike in fertility,” he says.

“Immigration runs in cycles. Every time we have a peak, we have a significant downturn and that basically reflects the business cycle that when the boom ends, as it inevitably must, then there’ll be a reaction against that.”

Already straining under crammed public transport and highways, the number of Australians living in capital cities could increase to 67% by 2056, up from the current number of 64% to a total population of 35.5 million.

But Birrell claims if the bureau’s numbers are correct, Melbourne will require a total rehaul of its infrastructure and public transportation policies.

“The consequences should these numbers be achieved, which I think is unlikely, is that we’d have to launch a city building exercise,” he says. “We’re looking at, in the big cities, a 50% to 70% jump in population. Should it come to pass, a massive building task would be needed.

“Infrastructure would have to be rebuilt, and rebuilt dramatically,” he says.

Demographer and KPMG partner Bernard Salt says the bureau’s predictions are accurate, and also calls for a higher priority on infrastructure development.

“I think the forecasts are well placed, but they are timely in the sense they reflect the reality of today’s environment.”

“What it means is that Australia will have to deliver infrastructure at an elevated pace,” he says. “Housing, roads, electricity, water – these will all be challenges for the next half a century that require a serious focus on infrastructure investment, delivery and funding.”

“Maybe infrastructure might need to take precedence over other areas of government spending,” he says.

Some of the report’s figures contradict the Brumby Government’s Melbourne 2030 report, which predict a population of 5.16 million by 2030 in contrast with the bureau’s number of 5.29 million.

But Premier Brumby has expressed the Government’s concern over the rapid rate of growth, saying it was “as fast as we want it to go”.

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