Population ponzi overruns our schools

By Leith van Onselen

Over the past decade, Melbourne’s population has ballooned by 832,000 or 23%, with an average 83,200 people flooding into the city each and every year, driven mostly via immigration (see next chart).

ScreenHunter_13326 Jun. 03 07.22

The collateral damage from this high immigration program has been felt far and wide, ranging from worsening traffic congestion, deteriorating housing affordability, and the overall erosion of public services.

One such area that has been badly affected is Melbourne’s public schools, which are now suffering from chronic over-crowding as they struggle to keep pace with the rampant population growth.

An example of this mess was on display yesterday in the Herald-Sun, which noted that some students are being forced to work on cushions on the floor and play in neighbouring parks because there simply is not the space to accommodate them:

STUDENTS are being forced to work on the floor, on cushions, in corridors and on a balcony at a cramped Melbourne school.

In the latest example of the state schools squeeze, North Melbourne Primary School has even introduced lap boards for Year 4 students to use as makeshift desks in one overcrowded transportable, according to parents…

It comes three months after the Herald Sun revealed packed schools across the state were taking over neighbouring parks and roads as play spaces and scheduling multiple lunch and recess times, due to a lack of forward planning…

A government review predicts the North Melbourne school will grow by about 100 students per year, reaching a staggering 2166 by 2031, but also suggests there is no need for a new Docklands school to help relieve pressure until then.

North Melbourne is one of a raft of schools bursting at the seams in Melbourne’s inner city and around the state as population growth outstrips capacity.

The above case study is not an isolated example, either. Back in February, Peter Goss, School Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute, penned an excellent article in The Conversation assessing the upcoming shortage of schools across Australia’s capital cities as the nation’s population balloons:

Australia’s population is booming. With it will come more school students – an estimated 650,000 more by 2026, an increase of 17% from today. Many new schools will be needed. Planning new schools is a long-term game: a child born today will start school in 2021 and complete year 12 in 2033…

To accommodate these extra 650,000 students, some 400 to 750 new schools will be needed. (Currently, there are about 9,400 schools in Australia.) Most will be primary schools – about 250 to 500.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters are likely to be government schools, with the remainder being either Catholic or Independent…

ScreenHunter_11161 Jan. 22 08.29

Most of the new schools will be needed in the outer-growth corridors of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth; the big Queensland cities outside Brisbane; and the resurgent inner city of Melbourne and to a lesser extent Sydney…

In the inner city, the big issue is the cost and scarcity of land…

Governments have been much worse at planning for the booming number of inner-city children…

Worse is to come, especially in Melbourne. Melbourne’s five most central local government areas will each see a 30% to 60% increase in student numbers over the next decade…

Inner-city parents in urban redevelopment zones are the most likely to have problems getting their children into a government school, followed by young families in outer growth corridors.

So here we have yet another case of Australia’s dysfunctional population ponzi in action.

The Federal Government massively ramped-up immigration from 2004 which, when combined with the mini baby boom encouraged by the baby bonus, is leading to surging demand for schooling.

However, the states have been unable to accommodate this growth – due in part to incompetence, but also through lack of funds courtesy of Australia’s famous vertical fiscal imbalance, whereby the federal government collects most of the revenue.

This dysfunction is arguably most apparent across inner city areas. The states have been successful in forcing urban consolidation and infill development, as evidenced by the proliferation of apartment development across our major cities. However, they have been totally unsuccessful in providing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this growth, be it schools or transport infrastructure.

The fact that Melbourne’s Docklands still does not have its own school – despite a decade-plus of rampant development – is testament to this incompetence, as is the new Fisherman’s Bend mega-development, which will eventually be twice the size of Docklands but ridiculously has no land set aside for schools!

All of which brings me back, once again, to the sage comments made last year by The Australia Insitute’s Richard Denniss, who lamented the government’s complete and utter neglect to manage the nation’s population explosion:

“Australia is one of the fastest growing countries in the developed world and our infrastructure isn’t keeping up. It isn’t keeping up now and hasn’t kept up for the last 10 years, and it’s not budgeted to keep up in the next 10.”

“What politicians are doing is every year they announce record spending on this and a new that, but what they don’t point out is that on a per person basis, per person we are spending less on health, per person we’ve got less access to transport, per person the reason the queues in the hospital keeps getting longer is because we are not building hospitals as fast as we are growing our population. They all know it, they just don’t say it”…

“If you want to double your population – and that’s our plan – we want to double our population – you have to at least double your infrastructure to maintain people’s standard of living… We’re talking schools, we’re talking hospitals, we’re talking trains, we’re talking roads, we’re talking police”…

“Population growth costs a lot… If you double the number of citizens then you double the number of teachers and double the number of nurses. It’s pretty simple math. But of course, you don’t have to double them if you gradually plan to lower the number of services. If you are happy for us to gradually lower the number of services in our health system, our aged system, if you are happy for congestion to gradually get worse, if you are happy for the amount of green space per person to decline, then you can do what we do”.

Ongoing population growth without adequate planning and investment means more time lost in traffic, more expensive (and smaller) housing, less services (e.g. health and education), and overall lower living standards.

The equation is that simple, but so often ignored by our politicians and policy makers.

If you care about this issue, vote 1 for the Sustainable Australia Party in the Senate at the upcoming Federal Election.

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Unconventional Economist
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  1. And yet the conservative s still seek to destroy the public education system by hook or by literal crook. Witness fellow traveller Mark Scott, late of ruining the ABC being appointed head of the department of education in NSW. Our schools will soon be as busted as the TAFE system as a series of scams take the place of education, because you know these idiots will start talking school vouchers next week.

  2. wasabinatorMEMBER

    But apparently saying no to ‘multiculturalism’ would be racialist! That’s how the usual suspects try to frame the argument.

    It’s really amazing how well the big end of town has got their hooks into this nation. And quite sad to see how neutered and apathetic the Aussie voter has become.

    • straya has devolved to become a rich man’s country, just like other emerging economies, so if you got the money? then your kids go to a school where they will have a desk

      • wasabinatorMEMBER

        Nothing! Perhaps I was making my point in too subtle a way: What I was saying is that whenever anyone speaks out against the immigration rate, they are framed as being against multiculturalism (as that is a gentler branding used in place of “high immigration” when it suits those with the Big Australia agenda) and thus are racist. The response is used often and was also used by Tony Abbott when the Labor tried to question whether certain aspects of the China FTA were in our worker’s best interested: racist!

  3. How about the fact governments has been shutting down schools rather than opening new ones over the past two to three decades? All in the name of budget prudence.

    • Yep. Many of the “superfluous” school sites sold by Greiner in the 80s/90s were sold to nearby private schools.

      • sydboy007MEMBER

        labor tried to close down Erskineville primary school a number of years ago. About the time the Gen x baby strike was nearing an end. Lucky for them the backlash was sufficient they changed their minds. Been here for 20 years and it’s amazing the child boom in the last decade.

      • The visionary Jeff Kennett sold off 350 schools in Victoria. I’m willing to bet that the appreciation of the land that they were on is far greater than what the additional payments on state debt would have cost.

  4. Check out Albert Park Primary School
    555 students in an area the size of a pin prick!

    • bzunicaMEMBER

      The school where my son goes to has 1360 students and 191 in prep. The school is “licensed” for 27 classes, but accommodates 50 in a sea of demountable classrooms, which are dodgy but also take away space for children to play. It’s a good school but considering a change because of the sheer size.

    • wasabinatorMEMBER

      I can imagine what the schools are like where the Chinese have been flooding into because of the school, such as in McKinnon. I believe they’ve had to, or are planning to shrink the zone. Imagine having paid 300k over the odds to find yourself ‘zoned out’!

  5. This is why I say the Property Council should be banned as a lobbyist organisation. Councils and State Governments should not be able to deal with it or its members, in any form. As it is, the Property Council is effectively writing public policy for Councils around planning regulations and heavily influencing state government regulation of its members’ activities.

  6. The solution is to allow people to bid each other up on school places. Speculators will soon enter the market buy up any spare places, and provide incentive for developers to build new schools. Banks can then offer new lines of credit to finance these astronomical fees at a barely affordable fortnightly rate. RBA will be responsible for ensuring schools remain affordable by continually dropping rates.

      • Strange Economics

        Yes – its the School Zone property speculation. 300k more to zone in. or more in foreign favoured ones like Glen Waverly. School zones should be a lottery entry selection around all the surrounding suburbs for 10 km, not a highest bidder gets the place.

    • PantoneMEMBER

      Then we’ll just have lots of empty foreign owned schools. But the granite counter tops will be to die for.

    • To get the kids started they can invest in the seat, then neg gear it to the next gen coming through. Get’s them a foot in the door for investing, sure a little bit later in life compared to that neg gearing baby Turnbull likes, but its a start. Though, they should put all the chair “renters” on one side and owners and investors other side………..

      • Ronin8317MEMBER

        The kid cannot afford to go to school, but the kid can invest in a school place and rent it to another kid due to the tax break.. Brilliant!! Who needs an education anyway when you can get rich buy and sell school places !!

  7. Australians will keep voting LibLab because they sing each to ‘waste their vote’ on another ‘fringe’ party. Even a ‘think of the children’ appeal won’t sway their ignorance and property greed.

  8. You’d be surprised at just how many old school sites in Victoria are sitting around and just doing nothing.
    Thank you Mr. Kennett.

      • Some maybe, but up until very recently the Vic. Treasury was still trying to get a whole bundle to market.
        And the biggest crime in todays world is an undeveloped piece of land.

  9. Pollies don’t give a shit about over-subscribed government schools as they send their children to private schools where it’s not an issue.

    • An interesting obligation to impose upon elected officials and those working for the government is that their children must attend public schools and that they must use the public health system.

  10. I want to see an article screaming about unusual rise in tax revenue due to population ponzi and measures how to stop it.

  11. Headlines such as this are a bit tabloid. Issues of school planning and construction (in Victoria for example) are as much a consequence of sloppy planning and poor management. Questions should be asked of the authorities responsible and used to build a more sophisticated understanding of the many factors that have contributed. Quoting rags such as the Herald-Sun is not conducive to this. And advocating population inflow reductions lets responsible authorities off the hook. They should be quite capable of managing this and doing so in a way that is sustainable.

    • Exactly.

      Our population growth is far more driven by the immigration of young adults and longevity increases than it is to with a massive increase in births and therefore school age children. In the twenty years from 1994 to 2014, Australia’s population went up by about 35% but the number of births increased by about 16%. An inability to provide infrastructure for a sub-1% increase in the number of kids each year isn’t to do with the sheer weight of numbers.

      The ABS states -“In the 20 years between 1994 and 2014, the proportion of children (aged 0-14 years) decreased from 21.6% to 18.8% of the total population.” Really, it should be easier, not harder, to educate kids, with more adults per child here now.

    • “And advocating population inflow reductions lets responsible authorities off the hook. ”

      But the fact is states like Melbourne have failed to invest enough in infrastructure and services, and now we’re all paying the price. Until there is actual meaningful evidence that things are improving I think maintaining the current immigration levels is a recipe for disaster. I’d leave Melbourne in a heartbeat if my family, friends and work werent all here.

    • There’s definitely a problem, but I’d guess its quite localized and due to gentrification of the inner cities, and subsequent migration of families and people wanting to start them. Inner city public schools are now on a par with private schools in the results they produce, though the correlation is to do with the rising socio-economic status of the families in the area, not the quality of the teaching.

      But that’s not how aspirational new arrivals see it. They look at Naplan scores and want their kids to go to the schools with the best results, so move to those areas. There’s a self perpetuating causal loop between school results and socio-economic status after that. And property prices too.

    • Exactly, and helped along by focusing attention on (inflated) head line stats that have been misinterpreted. One example is that many ‘immigrants’ are neither permanent migrants nor settlers, but temporary international students paying to study.

      The other is the fastest growing population cohort is the over 85s….. and not to forget growing car dependency of the same and others….

      Must be at least once a week MB produces a dog whistle headline, but it’s more about Pavlov’s dog, keep repeating it and even supposedly educated people have their heads being bypassed and their heart doing their thinking and speaking, aka Trump et al.

  12. The answer is simple, like the double decker couch in the lego movie, we have double decker desks. Everything is awesome!

  13. Diogenes the CynicMEMBER

    So the Emperor here in WA as Education Minister closed down and sold off the inner city public high schools (City Beach, Hollywood, Swanbourne amongst others) they then rezoned and sold the land for housing. Now they are looking at rising numbers and have to raze bushland to build new high schools in the inner city. It is the very definition of stupid short sighted government. One Liberal minister suggested that people in the western suburbs would prefer to send their kids to private schools so they didn’t need to provide many public spaces (=wrong!).
    How about the Singapore solution of two shifts for these schools? From memory it is 0800-1230 and 100-530 would increase productivity of the infrastructure.

  14. Yep another turd sandwich for the current Australians.
    Just registered our boy at the local school in the Ryde area and witnessed first hand the games our new “neighbours:” were going to so they could come from out of the catchment area.
    The connection to many of the ills that the residents of Australian cities face to explosive migration is clear yet not a peep in our current exercise in “democracy”

    • haroldusMEMBER

      what sort of stuff. primary or secondary? how does that benefit?

      have a kid soon for primary so interested in hearing anecdotes.


      • Strange Economics

        All the primary schools are good, but overcrowded and underfunded.
        High schools are a matter of whether you can afford to buy into the zone you like.
        Or pay 10 to 30k for private. Private schools get as much govt funding as state schools in a bizarre funding arrangement. The big end benefit from the Ponzi – extra sales for property, Woolworths, everything, and no taxes paid back (from the caymans) to do infrastructure.

      • Were in the west Ryde Area and the local public primary school which luckily is well regarded is pretty much full.
        My was attending to register our on in primary (we are in area and have been for 7 years) and there was a lady in front from several suburbs away. first claiming that she was moving in with here sister, then it was her cousin who was in the catchment but was not able to produce a lease.
        It seems like she would be back when she got a better story.
        The other anecdote was our neighbour who bought a house but doesn’t live there (it’s empty) primarily on the basis of then being able to get their kid into the school.

        Before & after hours is heavily over subscribed and we were told a “Nanny might be a good solution”.

        The other issue it is not multi cultural but mono cultural.

      • haroldusMEMBER

        thanks SE and E
        funny about the monoculture – I had a mate who moved his kids from Marrickville HS to St Mary’s high school as they were being racially abused. would have been about 8 years ago as the youngest is just finishing now. i’m luckily (renting) in Newtown.

  15. Dear me, so, so many errors….

    1. Immigration is of all ages not just school children, In fact the number of children is quite small as our NOM. (2014 to 2015)
    2015 NOM Ages, Whole of Australia
    0 to 4 – 10,599
    5 to 9 – 10,726
    10 to 14 – 8648

    Victoria Net NOM (2013-2014, note it has decreased since then)
    0 to 4 – 3454 well below the peak of 2009 as 3975
    5 to 9 – 3067 below peak of 2011 as 3335
    10 to 14 – 2505 well below the peak of 2009 as 3336

    There was no mini baby boom due to the baby bonus.
    http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Latestproducts/3301.0Main%20Features42014?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3301.0&issue=2014&num=&view=
    2004 to 2014
    04 – 62,417
    05 – 63,297
    06 – 65,245
    07 – 70,325
    08 – 71,184
    09 – 70,928
    10 – 70,572
    11 – 71,444
    12 – 77,405
    13 – 73,969
    14 – 74,224

    Note 2012 was peak births in Victoria.

    Peter Goss seem to be unaware that our actual births have been falling, yep fewer babies over the last three years. Doh, sorry the facts do not support his argument. He also totally does not understand that 30% of our population growth is our demographic momentum, more people living longer and that population growth is not all just new babies. Dear me…

    http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Latestproducts/3301.0Main%20Features12014?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3301.0&issue=2014&num=&view=

    In conclusion, the article and this piece is full on serious errors. With falling births and a very small number of NOM kids to Victoria, and more kids leaving school than entering, there is no education crisis. It is 100% a myth.

    • Indeed. A few facts are helpful. But hard to fight against lazy, emotive language like ‘population ponzi’ and ‘over flow’. Seems to stop brains from working.

    • I agree with pretty much everything you said there, but if you want to show ‘there was no mini baby boom due to the baby bonus’, you need to present the numbers for several years prior to when it was introduced, possibly starting when JWH took power.

      Also, there can still be an education crisis with a relatively steady enrollment if governments effectively decide over a two decade period to stop funding schools, and especially, to stop building new ones.

      • http://theconversation.com/the-baby-bonus-failed-to-increase-fertility-but-we-should-still-keep-it-4528

        “Australia’s total fertility rate rose from 1.76 births per woman at the introduction of the baby bonus to 1.96 in 2008, before falling back to 1.89 in 2010. However, the beginning of the upward trend in the birth rate in 2001 predates this policy initiative. Most (79%) of the increase between 2004 and 2008 can be accounted for by increases in fertility rates among women aged over 30.
        Peter Costello’s baby quip is now famous. AAP

        Following the introduction of the baby bonus, birth rates for women under 30 initially decreased, then increased between 2006 and 2008, before falling back to pre-baby bonus levels in 2010. Australia’s increase in fertility has coincided with broadly similar patterns in the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand. France, the Scandinavian countries and much of southern, central and eastern Europe also have experienced increases.”



      • “Following the introduction of the baby bonus, birth rates for women under 30 initially decreased, then increased between 2006 and 2008,”

        To be fair it takes a fertile couple 9-12 months to conceive a child on average, and obviously gestation is around nine months, so there wouldn’t be a notable rise until 1 1/2 to 2 years after its introduction in May of 2004. A bump in fertility in under 30s starting in 2006 and not prior is exactly what you’d expect to see if the baby bonus enticed people into having children (but also if it enticed them to have the same number of children a little earlier)

        But that comment shouldn’t be construed as support for the baby bonus as a policy, or for the notion that it increased fertility.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      While you have your data, the sad reality is that to get a place in a childcare center near where I live, you have to enroll as soon as the baby is conceived. Waiting for it to be born will be too late. It’s not just numbers, where the families are concentrated also matters.

      • Yes – the department of education has taken a deliberate approach of ignoring the movement of people between locations when it comes to expanding school places. Hence, if there is a school three or four suburbs away not yet at its limit, they won’t open a new school in a growth location. This is a big part of the problem.

    • While greater longevity and demographic momentum do contribute to population growth, there is no way that they can contribute to greater numbers of children in the schools. Australia’s fertility rate has been slightly below replacement level since 1976. The population continues to grow (demographic momentum occurs) because the births take place in the large young adult generation, but most of the deaths in the relatively very small elderly generation. The number of children cannot increase (other than by immigration or internal migration) once the young adults have dropped their fertility rate to replacement level.

      What you are forgetting is that migrants have babies, too, just like everyone else. About a third of our babies have at least one parent born overseas. These children are as much a product of our immigration program as those children who arrive directly.

      Blaming everything on poor planning is also misguided. Assuming that infrastructure has an average lifespan of 50 years, population growth at 2% doubles your requirement for infrastructure spending, but your tax base has only gone up by 2%. It may take decades for the new arrivals to contribute enough to pay for themselves. Bob Carr said in an interview last year that keeping up is just impossible.

  16. Not to mention how hard it is to get a job now when there are immigrants here working for illegal salaries of $10/hour.