Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for 2016-17 released on Tuesday show Sydney’s population was 5.1 million in June 2017, an increase of 101,600 people, or 2 per cent on the previous year.
That figure included 84,684 from net overseas migration, 34,994 from natural increase — births minus deaths — and a loss of 18,120 to net internal migration, compared with the 15,900 people who left in 2015-16.
The net internal migration figure means more people left Sydney for other parts of Australia than arrived, with 40,000 heading to other parts of NSW and 14,400 heading to Melbourne. The Australian reports that council areas with some of the highest rates of overseas migration are the same areas where more people are leaving to live elsewhere.
“The cost of housing in Sydney has obviously gone through the roof, it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world. A lot of younger people especially can’t afford to live there anymore, so they’re being forced to leave,” Mr van Onselen said.
“Secondly, liveability is being massively eroded — traffic congestion, trains, schools, hospitals, all manner of public services — and related to that it’s just become an expensive place to live, not just for housing but for day-to-day life.
“Because of that, I think a lot of people are leaving and going to Brisbane and Melbourne, which has it’s own problems. Melbourne has a lot of the same growth pressures but it’s a relative thing. The traffic may stink but you don’t get gouged everywhere with tolls, and the housing is a lot cheaper.”
The ABS figures showed the Victorian capital actually recorded the largest and fastest growth last year, increasing by 125,400 people, or 2.7 per cent, to reach 4.9 million. That was driven by 79,974 from net overseas migration, 36,284 from natural increase, plus 9166 from net internal migration.
Around 80 per cent of the total net overseas migration went to Sydney and Melbourne. Together, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane accounted for more than 70 per cent of Australia’s population growth in 2016-17. Darwin, Adelaide and Perth experienced relatively low rates of population growth, each at 1 per cent or less.
The latest release is the first time the ABS has broken down the population growth by natural increase, internal and overseas migration.
“It is now possible to not only see how much population is changing in an area, but to understand why this change is occurring,” ABS demography director Anthony Grubb said in a statement.
In Brisbane and Hobart, the factors contributing to population change were more or less even, while Perth and the ACT saw the biggest gains from natural increase. In Adelaide and Darwin, population gains from natural increase were offset by net internal migration losses.
The news comes amid growing calls for Australia’s record high immigration intake to be scaled back. A survey in August last year by the Australian Population Research Institute found 74 per cent of voters said the country does not need more people.
Those findings were echoed by two polls this week — a Newspoll that revealed 56 per cent of voters believe the existing immigration cap of 190,000 a year is too high, and an Essential Media poll that found 64 per cent believe the level of immigration over the last 10 years has been too high.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have attempted to dismiss concerns over high immigration raised by conservative colleagues including former PM Tony Abbott and Liberal Senator Jim Molan.
Earlier this month, the Home Affairs and Treasury Departments released a joint report that concluded migration was a net boost to the economy, raising gross domestic product per person by 0.1 per cent per person.
“The analysis conducted by Treasury and the Department of Home Affairs provides a clear evidence base for the government’s migration policy settings supporting our national interest,” Mr Morrison said at the time.
“The Turnbull government’s migration program retains the flexibility of a maximum cap on permanent migration, focused on skills, and is underpinned by our strong and successful border controls and strict enforcement of our visa rules to maintain integrity.”
Critics argued the report failed to take into account the cost to the states, or address recent findings by the Australian Population Research Institute’s Bob Birrell that only a small number of so-called skilled migrants were actually employed in professional positions.
“The Federal Government sets the intake and collects 80 per cent of the tax revenue, but state governments who collect only a very small proportion of tax have to wear the cost, as do individuals,” Mr van Onselen said.
According to a recent study by Infrastructure Australia, Melbourne and Sydney’s populations will surge to 7.3 million and 7.4 million respectively by the year 2046.
The report looked at different scenarios for urban development — expanded low density, centralised high density and rebalanced medium density — concluding that relative living standards would fall in all three cases.
“No matter what we do, New York-style high-rise or LA sprawl, everything’s going to get worse — traffic congestion, access to jobs, parking, schools, hospitals, green space,” Mr van Onselen said.
“Tolls are set to rise 4 per cent a year for the next 34 years. We can see it’s going to cost everyone more just to maintain this madness. The question is why? Why do this to yourself? It’s a policy choice.”
Australian National University demographer Dr Liz Allen, however, said it wasn’t the size of the population increase that mattered, but “what you do with those people and how they are accommodated”.
“We’ve known, for example, for the past 10 years what the federal government’s migration intake figures are and where people are likely to move when they get here,” she told The Australian.
“To say all of a sudden, to point the finger at migrants and say that they are the problem is wrong because it’s not them. It’s politicians, and they should be held to account for infrastructure decisions.”