Population ponzi overruns Sydney schools

By Leith van Onselen

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

In the decade to 2015, Sydney’s population grew by just over 700,000 people or by 17% – the equivalent of almost two Canberra’s.

And the NSW Government’s official population projections have Sydney’s population growing by 1,650 people per week (87,000 people per year) over the next 20 years – total population growth of 1.74 million people, which is the equivalent of 4.5 Canberra’s:

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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 Sydney’s public schools, which are now suffering from chronic over-crowding as they struggle to keep pace with the rampant population growth. From The ABC:

A Sydney school where running at recess is banned because of overcrowding has been told the State Government is scaling back a promised expansion, which means students will not get extra play space…

In the past ten years the school has almost doubled in size to 1,200 students…

The NSW State Government acknowledges it is facing an unprecedented level of student enrolments.

It is currently allocating funding for nearly 50 schools to be either built or redeveloped.

But student numbers are expected to increase by nearly 25 per cent by 2031.

“Particularly in Sydney where there are new apartment blocks going up in Sydney all the time,” said Joan Lemaire from the Teachers Federation.

“We definitely need the Government to step in and begin a much bigger building program.

“We see that as a priority, maybe a priority bigger than building roads and railways.”

The school funding shortfall to deal with population growth is estimated by the auditor general to be as much as $10 billion.

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). NSW (mostly Sydney) would need an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students over the next decade, whereas Victoria (mostly Melbourne) would require an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students (see below graphic).

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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, hospitals or transport infrastructure.

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.

Running a high immigration program without adequate planning and investment means incumbent residents will spend more time lost in traffic, spend more on (smaller) housing, receive less public services (e.g. health and education), and experience overall lower living standards.

The equation is that simple, but ignored by our mainstream politicians and policy makers, who prefer to take the short-term sugar hit from growth while incumbent residents suffer the long-term consequences.

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  1. So the 50 school plan is essentially a drop in a bucket? It’s truly scary how bad this country is run and how practically no one cares. With today’s GDP, I’m honestly terrified about the future because things can get really bad really fast. We could be free falling as an economy very soon and have no money to stop it totally vaporising.

    • I’m terrified too. I’m moving back to Australia in February. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I always kinda thought that I’d end up moving back just when the shtf. 2017 might be when the bubble finally pops. I’m not sure that China can/will can kick again, though I’m sure they’ll try. Their latest can kick bought us not quite a year it seems. If they do, my gut instinct tells me it work much or for long, so I can’t see much saving of Oz coming from China (though OJ would know more than me).

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Im very pleased the Liberal Party scraped through in last election, as this time, they are going to be the ones remembered for a generation for, putting us all through the Recession we had to have.

    • Strange Economics

      Pretty obvious in inner west Sydney. And in inner inner west Pyrmont/Glebe/Balmain/Annandale – totally packed. No new schools. No money for high schools especially. (you should go private, ok for the rentiers). Lots of new apartments and people.
      Yet the govt sells off school land for apartment developments and to private schools.

  2. There are awesome parcels of land that could be turned into great schools:

    * Ford Factory land next to Upfield Station
    * Greyhound Racing land just 2 km from Sydney CBD

    But hey, AUS is the stupid nation.

    • Any parcel of land in a desirable area will be sold off to developers. That’s the problem – land is just too valuable for schools, there is no profit incentive to build new ones

    • Heaps of land floating around for schools, half of them already have school buildings on them since they are schools closed in the 90s

  3. mild colonialMEMBER

    how’s the uptake of the six year old and family visa going? when do we get some stats on that? *snaps fingers*
    Popcod, don’t panic there are still vast tracts of beautiful country to enjoy on days you get out of the city.

  4. The sad part is that i know of two places where land was available for sale adjacent to existing two primary schools, yet they were bought by developers where more apartments are now going up. These pieces of land could have easily extended these schools at a lower price (even if it meant outbidding developers) than new greenfields developments in the area.

    1) Eastwood Primary (which is already full to the brim)
    2) Burwood Primary

    how do we find out if the dept of education attempted to participate in any land purchases?

    • From what I’ve heard Department of Education and Urban Growth (which is responsible for flogging off state land to developers) barely talk to each other. Urban Growth rakes in the dough so answers to no-one. There is no planning around education, health etc the only things that matter are apartments and transport infrastructure and the value uplift enabled by combining them. Apparently that’s all people want in a city.

      • Strange Economics

        Yep Urban growth (orwellian title) – a “Profit centre” sells off cheap , or to private schools.
        Ed department in NSW (just a cost centre to the govt) has no money to buy overpriced residential land.
        The left hand is deliberately not coordinated with the right hand.

  5. 3 Trelawney Street Eastwood sold for $21m in 2014. It could have added 2000sqm of space to Eastwood Primary or 15%-20% more space. The school is full to the brim already with hardly any play areas anymore.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Yes, we have frinds with kids at 1000 student! Eastwood public school.
      Our son and daughters School (Ermington Public with just under 500) which boarders the Eastwoods catchment has a reduced playground areas, compared to when I was there in the 70s and early 80s.
      I Hope they dont lose the Oval area at the rear,…but with that huge development planed at the old Put Put site on Victoria Rd, down to Hope st, I suspect hundreds more student places will have to be opened there.

      Melrose park has plent of land and less than 200 students, could that be ramped up to a 1000?

      The second stage is planned to move through GlaxoSmithKline, Eli lilly, Goodman fielder site etc right to the Parramatta river, with massive apartment builds.

      It’ll be quire a sight looking from the top of Marsden rd, across to Wentworth Point and Rhodes over the top of this development.
      10s of 1000s of new appartments, but how many new Schools?

  6. Help may be at hand, the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) are out and Australia is slipping down the rankings, this may give foriegn students parents pause for thought when considering Australia as the educator of their children.
    One interesting highlight of the PISA results is that ” if you compare Australian students in the top and bottom quater by their parents socio-economic background , the bottom 25% are on average three years of schooling behind the top 25%” (SMH today)… and the the fed education minister Simon Birmingham reckons that money is not an issue. Doh!!!

  7. In NSW it’s worse than the States doing nothing. The Greiner government systematically sold a whole bunch of existing schools which they thought were surplus to their needs. As it turns out, many were bought by the local private schools in order to increase their spaces which of course they do at massively inflated prices (while getting govt subsidies). Utterly appalling public administration.

    The Cameraygal High School opened in Crows Nest last year – not far from the old Crows Nest Boys high school which was closed in the early 90s. Cameraygal is the first new public high school on the North Shore of Sydney in about 50 years.

  8. Leith
    The baby bonus had a very small effect (around 3% increase) in births, hardly a mini baby boom. Your demographic knowledge does need some fine tuning in my opinion.

    I am also not really sure why we would be needing more schools when births decreased over the last few years. Odd…

    • I am also not really sure why we would be needing more schools when births decreased over the last few years. Odd…


      (a) The decrease over the last three years has, by definition, not hit schools yet (and is from a relatively high births number from the peak of the mining boom). If births continue to decline or are at least held at a lower level, it will still take until 2030 for the babies born in the peak year to graduate high school.

      (b) Due principally to house prices, families with children are now located in places where there were few families with children before, so the individual schools are inadequate. There will be other schools in the leafier suburbs that are not nearly as over-subsribed, and probably some that are under-subscribed.

      But your observation that a 15% increase in births from the previous peak compared to a 40% increase in population over the same time frame is hardly a boom, mini or otherwise (mirco? nano?) is on the money.

      • Bob, thanks.
        I now get the ‘why’. So does this mean, some are reducing in numbers while others are pushing their limits?
        If that is the case, then surely the schools that are shrinking could be consolidated and the ;valuable’ real estate used to fund bigger outer schools?
        So, once again the housing affordability manifests in different ways.

      • The reducing numbers aspect is mostly conjecture on my part, but in Melbourne at least it’s clear that there are new developments springing up where there was either no school (so neighbouring schools are over-run) or one very small one which is soon over-run. It’s seems very highly likely, especially given the reports of over-crowding that something similar is happening in Sydney.
        Even a small percentage increase on the total will lead to over-crowding if it’s concentrated in a relatively small number of suburbs.

      • Rage, yes as I recall approx only a 3% increase.
        This statement by Leith I think is incorrect… “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.”

      • Worst.Policy. Ever.

        “The study identified that the modest effect on birth rate yields a marginal cost per
        additional birth of at least A$124,000”

  9. Who cares about schools
    Let’s build more apartments for now and get more Chinese to the country.. that’s all what we care about in this nation