‘Demographer’: Immigration has no impact on congestion

By Leith van Onselen

I’ve read some fanciful immigration propaganda in my time, but today’s effort by Simon Kuestenmacher in The Australian is right up there in the fake news stakes.

Kuestenmacher is the Director of Research at The Demographics Group and is described as “a rising star in the world of demography”. The Demographics Group is the private enterprise headed by self-proclaimed “unabashed supporter of a bigger Australia” Bernard Salt, who has spent years lobbying for mass immigration.

Today, Kuestenmacher has attempted to argue that cutting immigration (and population growth) would have no impact on congestion:

Melbourne and Sydney combined were home to 41 per cent of the population in 2018 but received 54 per cent of all growth between 2017 and 2018. The two cities received an even larger share of net overseas migration (65 per cent of all new migrants)…

The big five cities will continue to create jobs regardless of migration policies. Cutting permanent migration figures is likely to dry out the migration streams to regional towns long before growth in Melbourne and Sydney is affected even marginally…

…Cutting migration figures will do nothing to bust congestion in the big cities but could seriously harm the regions. The congestion issues in the big cities need to be solved through infrastructure upgrades and a focus on secondary employment hubs outside of the central business districts.

So! The million-plus people added to Sydney and Melbourne over the past 14 years after the immigration floodgates were thrown open has had no impact on congestion…

And the projected doubling of Sydney’s and Melbourne’s populations over the next half-century, caused almost entirely by positive net overseas migration (NOM), will have zero impact on congestion…

This volume of population growth needs to be put into context:

  • It took Sydney roughly 210 years to reach a population of 3.9 million in 2001. Yet the official medium projection by the ABS has Sydney having roughly 2.5 times that number of people in only 65 years.
  • It took Melbourne nearly 170 years to reach a population of 3.3 million in 2001. However, the official medium ABS projection has Melbourne’s population tripling in only 65 years.

Kuestenmacher can spin fairy tales all he likes, but the empirical evidence and lived experience unambiguously shows that the immigration-driven population deluge has dramatically increased congestion. Moreover, it is projected to worsen as the population balloons.

Indeed, Infrastructure Australia’s 2018 report, entitled Planning Liveable Cities, found that Australia’s infrastructure provision is failing badly to keep pace with rapid population growth:

“Infrastructure delivery is struggling to keep pace with rapid population growth and change. Our largest cities are ‘playing catch up’ in delivering infrastructure to support population growth…  Our infrastructure funding mechanisms have not kept pace with growth… Communities are increasingly disappointed by their experience of growth…”

In 2010, Engineers Australia estimated Australia’s infrastructure deficit to be $700 billion. A follow-up report in 2018 report by Engineers Australia examined 10-year construction trends and concluded that infrastructure is “not keeping up with population and economic growth” following “almost a decade of underinvestment”.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest Article IV report on Australia similarly noted that Australia “has a notable infrastructure gap compared to other advanced economies” and that “there is an average forecasted annual infrastructure gap of roughly 0.35 percent of GDP through 2040 for basic infrastructure (roads, rail, water, ports), and an additional gap in social infrastructure (schools, hospitals, prisons), likely of a lesser magnitude”. The IMF also warned that “gaps may also be opening faster than expected, given the greater-than-expected rapid population growth in Sydney and Melbourne”.

For its part, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimated that congestion cost the Australia economy $16.5 billion in 2015. Moreover, without major policy changes, congestion costs are predicted to reach between $27.7 and $37.3 billion by 2030.

Finally, let’s remember that Infrastructure Australia projects that traffic congestion and access to jobs, schools, hospitals and green space will all worsen in Sydney and Melbourne as their populations balloon to a projected 7.4 million and 7.3 million people respectively by 2046, irrespective of whether these cities build up or out:

Kuestenmacher’s prescription that “congestion issues in the big cities need to be solved through infrastructure upgrades” is similarly a fairy tale.

In already built-out cities like Sydney and Melbourne, the cost of retrofitting new infrastructure to accommodate greater population densities is prohibitively expensive because of the need for land buy-backs, tunnelling, as well as disruptions to existing infrastructure. These are what economists call ‘dis-economies of scale’.

The Productivity Commission (PC) has been at the forefront highlighting the huge infrastructure costs associated with population growth.

In its 2016 Migrant Intake into Australia report, the PC noted:

“Physical constraints in major cities make the costs of expanding infrastructure more expensive, so even if a user-pays model is adopted, a higher population is very likely to impose a higher cost of living for people already residing in these major cities…

Funding will inevitably be borne by the Australian community either through user-pays fees or general taxation…”

The PC’s 2018 Shifting the Dial: 5 year productivity review also noted that infrastructure costs will balloon due to Australian cities’ rapidly growing populations:

“Growing populations will place pressure on already strained transport systems… Yet available choices for new investments are constrained by the increasingly limited availability of unutilised land. Costs of new transport structures have risen accordingly, with new developments (for example WestConnex) requiring land reclamation, costly compensation arrangements, or otherwise more expensive alternatives (such as tunnels)”.

Infrastructure Australia has also regularly warned on the rising cost of infrastructure provision caused by rapid population growth. For example, its 2018 Planning Liveable Cities report noted:

“…construction of new infrastructure is often more expensive, due to the need to tunnel under existing structures or purchase land at higher costs. The small scale, incremental nature of growth in established areas can also lead to an over-reliance on existing infrastructure, which can result in congestion and overcrowding”.

The fact of the matter is that adding around a Canberra-worth of population to Australia each and every year – with 90,000 to 110,000 people projected for Sydney and Melbourne alone – requires an incredible amount of investment just to keep up.

This explains why Australia’s infrastructure deficit has fallen so badly behind over the past 15 years, and why infrastructure deficits will continue to grow under the mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy, in turn eroding residents’ living standards.

Simon Kuestenmacher should stop faking it.

[email protected]

Unconventional Economist


  1. I’d recommend these people live in Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai or the like before spreading this gaslighting.

    • Over time Sydney and Melbourne will also turn up to be replicas of Bangkok, Mumbai, etc. The general tendency is to sterilize native population (through celebration of LGBTQ+, feminism, etc.) and replenish the workforce through immigration. Employers love immigrants (and therefore “diversity and inclusion”), because they don’t have to pay tax to train and educate them, take care of them and so forth. And they’re often a lot more obedient and don’t nag about congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, squalid urbanization, …

  2. The congestion issues in the big cities need to be solved through infrastructure upgrades and a focus on secondary employment hubs outside of the central business districts.

    This bloke clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. As Any Fule Kno, what will fix thing is Moar and Better Planning. We just need lots and lots of planning. We don’t need to actually do anything, just plan to do things. Plans out that wazoo will make everything good in our multicultural paradise. I know this, because “Dr” Liz Allen, world famous “demographer” told me so.

    • The issues with the infrastructure upgrades is that they will be perpetual (provided there is still money) as long as we have the population ponzi. For the work the metro tunnel many of us are taking the replacement buses and people have told me about their 3 hour commutes home. Imagine this several weeks a year every year. Then add in schools, hospitals, roads, power and communication networks.

      And whilst he says a secondary employment, what used to happen once was we had manufacturing in the suburbs like Sunshine, Broadmeadows and Dandenong etc. But what is left is being killed by the high dollar and energy prices.

  3. Great article. Refuting the lies of the population boosters is a never ending job. It would be interesting to know what the average cost of extra infrastructure and public services is per additional person in the major cities. You can bet that all of us will be paying for it or seeing our infrastructure and services deteriorate. Privatise the profits and socialise the costs.

  4. Seems to me there are only two reasons anyone would advocate a Big Australia. Either they stand to gain financially through commerce and/or high property prices, or they want to show they’re not racist.

    If it was ever for our greater good, they would listen to the populace.

    • Not sure how effectively and properly managing the numbers of people entering a country equates to racism.

    • “Either they stand to gain financially through commerce and/or high property prices, or they want to show they’re not racist. ”

      – Wrong. People support Big Australia through their underlying FEAR of being labelled a racist if they are suspected to oppose it. FEAR is what is driving irrational behavior…
      oh, and vested interests profiting from the extra demand, like the 1% who own all the property and businesses…. hang on, are our federal politicians not this very 1% we speak of? #Corrupt some? #Straya

  5. According to https://www.sydneyplanning2018.com.au/speaker/simon-kuestenmacher/

    Simon holds Bachelor degrees in Geography and Social Science from Humboldt University in Berlin as well as a Master’s degree in Urban Geography from the University of Melbourne

    So another fake “demographer”. I would call a bloke with two qualifications in geography a geographer myself.

    The ANU has a world renowned Demography department full of people with qualifications and experience in actual demography, but the MSM feeds us nonsense from people with qualifications on the TV viewing habits of fat kids, maps, and other irrelevant stuff.

    Any “demographer” who reckons that adding hundreds of thousands of people to a city has no effect on things like congestion isn’t a demographer and is a liar.

    • Yep – Kuestenmacher is as transparent as they come. Another case of a pig’s ear dressed up as a silk demography purse.

      He wrote a < 50,000 word thesis that says it is "Submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Philosophy December 2014"…at the…"Melbourne School of Land and Environment, The University of Melbourne"


      It says nothing about a masters degree in urban geography.

      I call bullsh#t because he actually wrote a MPhil (a big essay < 50,000 words) on the topic. If he has a Masters in Urban Geography it should say so on the label – nope. In reality it is very very ordinary as a scholarly document and is in the main based upon 30 interviews of international students:

      "Student Housing as Social Opportunity External Influences on International Students’ Housing Decisions"

      That's about as far away from rigorous as you can get, analysing the views of a group and running some stats. That's called "Market Research" not geography or demographics. It is based on perception and it is arguably not "data" that this candidate has analysed. Remember "data" is empirical and can be replicated and independently tested.

      So it's always revealing when the thesis title reveals the bias i.e. not looking objectively at social impacts, but deciding that they are an 'opportunity' and playing to a marketing angle to flog them.


      There is no evidence that he has studied demography. Demography used to be defined as:

      "…the study of statistics such as births, deaths, income, or the incidence of disease, which illustrate the changing structure of human populations."

      If an essay based upon interviewing overseas students about what dog box they select qualifies you as an urban geographer/demographer then perhaps we need to redefine the profession to:

      "… Public relations and market research to identify real estate development and mass immigration opportunities to assist developers and corporate investors."

      Once more, this guy has no peer reviewed publication record, no evidence to back his claim as a "demographer" and uses a site to self promote himself as a "rising star". However, he is clearly linked to the Property Council who promoted him and a sham "research" job where his "expert" status is shamelessly advertised with glossy marketing.


      It is the exact MO or the other "heavyweight" demographer in Canberra – Dr Liz Allen.

      • Nice work Clive. I was gonna have a more detailed look at this bloke later, but you beat me to the punch.

      • Sadly this type of review might be the only thing that slows propagandists. Can you get it down to a 40 character summary that is easily posted whenever this guy pops up again? I reckon it is fair game when someone is holding themselves out as a expert. Can you do one for Bernard Salt while you are at it?

    • What qualifies Dr. Bob Birrell to be a ‘demographer’; there is no specific ‘demographer’ qualification except qualitative and quantitative research and analysis skills.

  6. Maybe what he is saying is that it is already stuffed full, and cutting now will make no difference because it is at the point of no-return?

  7. The only problem I have with the graph comparing peak and off peak journey times is the dramatic increase in travel times during off peak periods. Anyone driving around Melbourne on a weekend would know this. So the graph seriously underestimates the congestion.

  8. To be fair, and I am being pedantic, he is right that cutting immigration won’t fix congestion. We already have that baked in. But crucially if we don’t curb it we will get worse.

    • If the tap is pumping and the bath is overflowing, the logical course of action is to scream for better bath infrastructure while the flood spreads!

  9. CanuckDownUnder

    So we’ve got an election coming up and the two major parties are offering a choice between “cutting” immigration when in fact their own budget numbers show they are planning to increase it, and another offering a straight up Big Australia policy!

    We have people sick to death of overcrowded roads, trains, schools and hospitals, unaffordable housing, anaemic wage growth, and under- and un-employment, and we know that to alleviate these problems all we need to do is scale back immigration. Just this week this blog published a story claiming that 72% of Australians are sick of population growth.

    So what is the only party whose raison d’être is stabilising the country’s population growth doing about it? Are they coming out hard demanding that immigration be cut now? No, they are using their social media platform to whine about how those on the hard left are using D. Smith’s association with Pauline Hanson to smear their party as rac1sts. You can’t make this stuff up!

    Just look at their Facebook logo, the Sustainable Australia Party is demanding we stop overdevelopment! Well good luck with that NIMBY platform, a once in a generation chance to gain an electoral foothold in going to waste as the coming recession will smash NOM anyway and then what? If SAP want to rise above the also-rans like the Euthanasia Party, the Animal Justice Party etc etc then they need to replace that logo with Lower Immigration Now and come out hard on the number of migrants crush loading our cities.

    I’ve said in the past that it doesn’t matter if they offend the hardcore lefties with this message but I was wrong. The best thing for them would be to have these fake Greenies and Guardianistas falsely accusing them of rac1sm when there is nothing rac1st about wanting lower immigration levels, since this will at least get their message out to a wider audience. And this message with resonate with enough voters that even with their smaller funding base they can easily get some traction and senate seats. Will they take this chance or continue down their bland path of offend absolutely nobody at any cost?

    • “The best thing for them would be to have these fake Greenies and Guardianistas falsely accusing them of rac1sm when there is nothing rac1st about wanting lower immigration levels, since this will at least get their message out to a wider audience. And this message with resonate with enough voters that even with their smaller funding base they can easily get some traction and senate seats. Will they take this chance or continue down their bland path of offend absolutely nobody at any cost?”

      That’s pretty spot on. SAP’s small target approach will not cut the mustard. Unfortunately SAP is still worried about “splitting the Green vote”. But if they are to gain traction it will not be via people voting with their feet after seeing a high rise in their street and having a catharsis. SAP must grasp the nettle and begin to debate key issues in the public domain. You will not escape the howl of derision from the far left or far right.

      And they must take The Greens on and pull in some of their votes. In fact, destroy The Greens if they do not do that all by themselves.

      I feel bad criticising SAP because they have a lot of good will and have done heaps of hard work, but I will never join a party that wants to fight an election with the gloves on and one hand tied behind its back – it won’t work, and isn’t. The property lobby and population boosters are as scummy as they come and there is no “under the radar” approach where you come out clean. They are the chimney sweeper we need to wrestle.

      However, there is a mass of highly qualified people with real credentials who would take the property lobby on – but they need a party willing to support and focus that energy.

      The key issue is just as you said – there is nothing racist about wanting lower immigration. And the Australian people must be consulted about the future of their country. The political elite have decided to side-step that bit and we should all be furious.

      SAP need to be the lightning rod for the debate we need to have.

      So far, SAP has not shown the strategic will to do so, network people and lead the charge – and I fear that time has run out.

      • Even StevenMEMBER

        Agreed. They have an amazing opportunity to get traction on the ‘lower immigration’ message. Do it.

      • CanuckDownUnder

        I’m a member of the party and wish them all the best, I’m just frustrated by the amount of energy they waste trying to hide their main message because they don’t want to offend fake Greenies and the like.

        Why are they running with Stop Overdevelop as their slogan? Cut immigration first and the need for future development is reduced so stick with the main message!

        Their campaigning really makes you question where they are trying to win votes from.

    • Agree 100%…

      to hell with tip-toeing around this issue… “Lower Immigration Now ” …#SAP needs to tackle this head-on to spark the open debate that needs to occur to unpack this issue in its entirety, in the MSM….

  10. Congestion and density are almost interchangeable terms. More people, and more of those people being more closely packed, is a more congested urban environment. This is official policy. In a country with 0.3% of its land mass urbanised it’s a very silly policy but its policy nonetheless.

    • Only if you persist under the current paradigm. You can have density and limit the growth in road based travel if the services and activities are accessible using active transport modes (transit, walk or cycle).

  11. Why don’t these insane growth proponents head off and live in any of the hundreds of existing crush-loaded, environmentally dead, polluted, hell-hole mega-cities the world has already made and leave us alone?