VIC scrambles as population ponzi overruns schools

By Leith van Onselen

The lack of planning and foresight to cope with the never-ending population (immigration) influx never ceases to amaze.

Over the past decade, Melbourne’s population has ballooned by more than 850,000 people, or nearly one-quarter, driven mostly via immigration (see next chart).

ScreenHunter_13326 Jun. 03 07.22

The city’s population is also projected by the Victorian Government to balloon by 75% over the next 36 years to 8 million people, again mostly via immigration (see below chart).

ScreenHunter_14066 Jul. 17 17.20

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.

In June, it was reported that some Melbourne school students were being forced to work on cushions on the floor and play in neighbouring parks because there simply is not the space to accommodate them. The situation was most acute in Melbourne’s inner-city areas, where schools are simply being overrun by the student influx.

And 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. This article estimated that the number of school students would balloon by 650,000 (17%) by 2026, which would require the building of an additional 400 to 750 new schools (up from 9,400 currently). Victoria (mostly Melbourne) alone would need an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students over the next decade (see below graphic).

ScreenHunter_11161 Jan. 22 08.29

Melbourne’s inner city would be worst affected, according to Grattan:

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.

Today, The Age has reported that the Victorian Government has announced that it will build four new inner-city schools in a belated attempt to alleviate some of the pressures of rampant student growth:

There’s an anxiety that grips Docklands families as their children grow up.

They have two options – move house when their child reaches prep, or a long, annoying commute in peak hour traffic to a school outside their neighbourhood…

The Andrews government… announced on Tuesday that “over the next few years” a primary school in the Docklands, a primary and secondary school at Fishermans Bend and a new primary school in North Melbourne would be built to accommodate the student boom.

The government will also purchase a new site to expand the popular Albert Park College.

It follows a relentless campaign from Docklands parents, who have been crying out for a new school for 15 years. Successive governments have promised these families a school, and three studies into the sought-after education facility have been commissioned.

Frustrated parents at North Melbourne Primary – who claim free range chickens have better rights than their children in cramped classrooms – have also been fighting for new inner-city schools to ease the overcrowding. Students have complained of sore backs from sitting on the classroom floor, because there are not enough seats…

Education Minister James Merlino said… “Enrolment growth right across Melbourne and Victoria is just extraordinary… We are seeing that pressure right here in the inner-city, in the growth corridors of Melbourne and in our growing regional cities”…

Mr Merlino said the new schools would create 5000 new places for students.

Too little too late, I’m afraid. Creating 5,000 new places for students will barely hit the sides given nearly 180,000 places will be needed statewide over the coming decade, according to Grattan.

All of this, yet again, highlights Australia’s dysfunctional population ponzi.

The Federal Government massively ramped-up immigration from 2003 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 does not already 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 did not have land set aside for schools when initially launched!

To make matters even worse, the Turnbull Government recently relaxed visa rules to allow 6 year-old foreign students and their guardians visa entry into Australia’s primary schools, thus adding to the demand pressures.

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 too often ignored by our politicians and policy makers, who prefer to take the short-term sugar hit from growth while existing residents suffer the long-term consequences.

[email protected]


  1. Keep hammering away, MB! A few greyhound trainers can get a state premier to reverse course, so anything’s achievable

  2. Now imagine if all those empty apartments were actually rented out suddenly! Anyway, this is what people vote for. If they spent 10% if their social media time getting informed here, it’d be a different story.

  3. Schools don’t really fit the model.

    Immigrants are supposed to arrive as fully grown, educated investors with bags of cash and immediately adopt our low birth rates.

    Who could have predicted they’d breed?!

    The insolence!

  4. Its “private wealth, public squalor” all over again. There’s no profit motive in developing schools, parks, museums and other public amenities. Eventually everything will become apartments and/or transport links to from the city. Inner city public infrastructure will begin to decay under the increased load, and the middle classes of child rearing age will flee once more to the outer reaches.

    • Private wealth Public squalor indeed
      When will those responsible (and their apologists) be held to account?

  5. Even StevenMEMBER

    Good post, Leith. What a disgraceful situation.

    So our politicians are either stupid or evil. Great.

    • How do you figure? At a national level, births peaked in 2012, and have retreated since, so if Melbourne births follow the same pattern, demand for child care will fall slightly from the end of next year (and it will be worse if there is any increase in unemployment).

  6. The best migrants are the full fee paying uni students and the full fee paying HSC students (in both cases without parents).
    This immigration at least helps kick the aging of the population can a bit down the road, but of course, it means that in 40 years an even bigger demographics problem hits along with all the infrastructure requirements for the next 40 years.
    You can’t have compound growth in a finite world, but politicians seem determined that we will all hit the limits to growth at the same time, thus it will not be worthwhile for any one country to invade any other country. The global population ponzi is a strategy for world peace!!!

    • You might be making the assumption that these international students will be skilled and educated and pay tax or a social contribution.
      That used to be true a decade ago but not anymore.
      The typical international student today will be quite old – over 25, doing a nonsensical course like 8 year old English or cooking or accounting in Chinese (paid assignments and no English skill after 4 years segregated special needs “Uni”)

      with a pass rate of 3.4% into a professional paid vacation.

      In other words 96% fail to be anything.
      560,000 international students of which 525.000 will remain low skilled non tax or two avoiding.

      Now all the time they are here most of these ‘students’ work illegally (93% SMH April)

      So for 4, 6, 9 years whilst on any average temporary visa they make no contribution and typically continue to work in ethnically aligned cash in hand low skill work & industries.

      The point i am making is this is almost the worst intake of all – very low skill migrant guestworkers, many are rural or urban slum clearance sent here on a pretext Visa only to work and send money back to their agent procurers, and social ethic and work wise they are and will remain a huge financial burden.

  7. Overcrowding in the public schools will worsen as the economy enters recession. Private schools (at least in Adelaide) are starting to feel the pinch as the number of new students in the early years steadily decline.

    • Blue-collar workers in decades past aspired to privately educate their children and many sacrificed an awful lot to do it. White-collar workers nowadays aspire to a larger mortgage so they can get into a good public school catchment. How times change.

      • This is happening a bit among my associates.

        At $25k+ a year per child for a private school, if you have 3 kids that’s around half a million that could be put into a mortgage (because what better place to put your money?).

      • No only the Chinese does this as they are misinformed about how the Australian school system actually works and they just assume that it works the same as back home (where public schools are much better academically compared to private).

  8. I’m all for sustainable population growth, but our state governments cannot expect to simply take in all he stamp duty funds without building more education (and transport!) infrastructure, they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

    Why not mandate teaching facilities for new apartment blocks above a certain size? That would be awesome.

    • The Paper Mill in Alphington is a classic example. It will add more than double the size of Alphington over night.

      Already the local school has gone from a single prep / grade one class to three of each with development going crazy in the region.

      It was at this school that the first three storey portable was implemented. It is at this school the kids are forced to play in the park and the kids sit on cushions.

      The school is still number 31 in naplan results – highly impressive – however it is being decimated as they simply ram more and more students in every day. (Yes – mid year, mid term – just ram them in).

      The paper mill will add 5,000 apartments when it was first introduced. Their “green space” was the roads between the houses and they even wanted to incorporate the verge on their side – forcing the Chandler highway bridge upgrade to the other side of the road – this is still on the cards. They claimed part of the existing parkland as their green space.

      There was no space for a school provided by the paper mill development. None at all.

      They were forced to reconsider their designs and have since come back with space for two year levels on the top storey of the school on the corner of Heidelberg and Chandler highway.

      This is easily amongst Melbourne MOST polluted intersections not just in traffic by of course heavy trucks. NO green space, nothing. Just dump the kids directly on the corner of the intersection of two major highways.

      Oh – and of course they get to take over the public spaces in the parks.

      Absolutely sickening disregard for town planning and infrastructure.

    • I’m all for sustainable population growth
      We might have to insist on immigrants being either homosexual or infertile. That is the only way for sustainable population growth sans extra schools.

    • Why not peg discretionary increases in population to meeting measurable international environmental, health and education benchmarks?

      • That’s a really good idea IMO.

        I like the concept that “growth” should be a reward for councils / catchment areas that are performing really well. Councils that are performing badly should be forced to buck their ideas up before taking on more people. This could help decentralize population growth away from the most overcrowded areas.

  9. Jumping jack flash

    You do realise that the government isn’t going to build as many new schools as required, if any, but rely on the private sector to do the most of the work? They are getting out of the school game, as fast as possible without raising public alarm.

    All recent signs point to this: private schools receiving public funding, and not only that, but private schools receiving more public funding than public schools. It will only worsen with time. It is the government’s agenda, and it seems it is bi-partisan, too.

    But the private sector is only going build new schools if they can make money hand over fist by doing it. At the moment schools aren’t exactly a money-making machine. Perhaps this is the idea behind allowing primary and secondary-aged foreign students to study at Australian schools, full fee paying of course.

    Private sector would love that. Universities already do (even despite that recent news about ANU). Primary and secondary private schools want some of the foreigner action as well! It would also probably boost their NAPLAN scores, attracting more concerned parents, such as myself, that go “school shopping” based on NAPLAN scores.

    (I know I know, the scores are easily manipulated, but its better than nothing when in an unknown town in the middle of nowhere with 6 public and 2 private schools to choose from!)

  10. I would like to add to this that under the previous Liberal government in victoria the residents were screaming out for a school in the inner city due to the explosion in residents – the local schools like Errol St Primary School are so over crowded there is standing room only – not quite.

    But it is amongst the most severe in the state.

    The local residents found a suitable site, organised the planning etc for the approval process with Melbourne City Council and then went to Mathew Guy to have it approved.

    He rejected the proposal and instead declared it would be a church.

    NOT EVEN KIDDING. There are dozens upon dozens of churches in inner Melbourne – not a single school.

    So there is that.

    In his maiden speech to the Victorian Parliament in 2006 Mr Guy proudly spoke of his Christian belief.

    ”As a newly elected parliamentarian I want to state loudly and proudly to this chamber that I am a Christian,” he said.

    • Mr. Guy was public enemy number one when he was Planning Minister. Australian political corruption at its finest.

  11. So where are all these people coming into the country finding jobs? What happens when we get GFC II and jobs start to evaporate? When unemployment starts rising would we see a reversal of this trend?

    This is a total disgrace and you cannot trust the Australia government. If things get too bad which country do you move to which has better morals and ethics?

    • NO one is prepared to call a spade a spade and put two and two together. Whatever.

      We are seeing vigilante groups in multiple regions across Melbourne, including the CBD – who are patrolling our streets due to the massive wave of crime which police admit they can not deal with.

      School over crowding.

      Transport over crowding.

      But DARE question immigration and you are a racist one nation supporter.

      Oh, and the crime wave is from immigrants and unemployed.

      I’m moving to New Zealand.

    • Don’t worry I’m betting on all this tipping over in the coming years and a full reverse of course. Just like Brexit, but it will take a while, like a frog in boiling water most Aussies don’t know they are screwed just yet, especially the younger generation, but they are slowly waking up to it.

    • “So where are all these people coming into the country finding jobs?”

      In Japan there’s a 7/11 store and/or a vending machine every other block.. Just think of the army of workers required to service all of those stores/machines! Granted we’re not quite at that point yet. :p

  12. Random PunterMEMBER

    And meanwhile up in Queensland the last state government went through and “rationalised” a whole bunch of primary schools. So maybe I can understand closing down Pinkenba, but Fortitude Valley? No forward planning – simply looked at the current enrollments and shut it right down, despite being located smack bang in the middle of the biggest apartment development zone in the entire city. Granted the awful architecture going up is not exactly aimed at families, but the population of the suburb is literally exploding – where are these kids supposed to go to school? It all seems kinda stupid.

    • Fortitude Valley is an interesting one. I lived in Bowen Hills for 30 years and there was at one point a strong case for closing the school, there were hardly any students and it was a poor allocation of resources to keep it open. However, when they did eventually close it, there was finally a case for keeping it open i.e massive influx of people projected to move to the area…….

  13. Kennet shut down a heap of schools. Until recently treasury were still trying to sell off the abandoned sites from Clayton to Keilor.
    Kirner and Kennet, that’s a one-two that no state deserves. Then you get Wonthaggi Desal and Myki. And the Vics like to have a laugh about Qld, SA and Tas. No state is immune from from a poor standard if politician.

    • Yes, Kennett closed 350 schools to improve the Vic economy. Back then, in the 90s people predicted what is happening now, but as this was all going to be in the future, as always the short term gains always win out. And now, here we are, and things are set to get a lot worse. There just isn’t the room to build new schools any more. Imagine how many apartments can be squeezed into any one school. The priorities are obvious, and nothing (or little) will be done until it’s far too late.

      • I spent some time with a fairly high up public servant last year. Whenever he saw a piece of unused land he’d say, “Imagine what could be developed there.” And by developed he meant apartments.
        I’m on holiday at the moment and the longer I spend away from Melbourne, the harder it will be to go back. The Laberal party in that state has run a masterclass in mismanagement and poor planning. I almost feel sorry for the Premier that is is power when things turn because when house prices finally go consistentlyy negative-sideways the backlash is going to be huge. My second prediction is that the populace won’t learn anything. They’d have to unlearn the past 20 years of Howard, The Block and all their demon spawn.

        People talk about Gen-Y or the Baby Boomers being selfish. It is Australia that is selfish. Top to bottom, mansion to gutter, from cradle to grave. The big nasal whinge that is going to be unleashed when things get difficult will echo through the ages.

  14. steven.grellman

    In Victoria, there are 44 public school sites currently being prepared or marketed for sale by the State Government. Given the projections and current third world rates of population growth in Australia, continuing to sell these community assets off is incredibly short sighted.