Melbourne population to soar past Sydney within decade

INCREDIBLE before and after images show Melbourne’s huge and rapid sprawl as the city expands. An expert says we’re not ready for what comes next.

Rohan Smith@ro_smith

LAST week, demographer Bernard Salt made a bold prediction about Melbourne’s population skyrocketing past five million by 2021 and past eight million by 2050.

He said it is not quite time to shut the gate, but it certainly needs to be “closed a bit” as Melbourne looks to eclipse Sydney as Australia’s most populated capital by 2030.

Now, a Melbourne-based academic specializing in population modeling believes Melbourne is set to soar past the Harbour City much sooner than that if it hasn’t already.

Professor Peter McDonald from Melbourne University’s school of population and global health said the figures are real — and it’s time to take the population debate seriously.

“When a city reaches five million people it only performs efficiently with the best public transport systems and infrastructure,” he told

“Melbourne’s public transport system is good but not as good as some other truly global cities like Paris and Tokyo. It’s not as efficient.”

He said Melbourne is already “under pressure with schools and hospitals” because of population projections around 2003 forecast much slower growth than what’s happened.

“We went in the wrong direction,” Prof McDonald said.

A packed MCG. If you like personal space, perhaps Melbourne isn’t for you. Source: AAP

Melbourne is currently home to around 4.7 million people, and there’s no reason to believe population growth will slow anytime soon. Prof McDonald says that’s because Melbourne has something Sydney lacks — zero geographical constraints.

“Melbourne historically grew to the southeast and out to the east and didn’t extend to the north and the west,” Prof McDonald said. “There are piles of land to the north and Melbourne isn’t constrained like Sydney which has the Blue Mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.”

Incredible aerial photographs show just how rapidly Greater Melbourne is expanding. Before and after images from the last decade show large patches of land previously untouched now dominated by suburbia — homes lined up side-by-side-by-side

Melbourne’s expansion since 1985

































Pictures provided by Nearmap to show suburbs like Point Cook in Melbourne’s west and Clyde in Melbourne’s southeast are no longer quiet, spacious and underdeveloped like they once were. More than 770 homes were sold in Berwick — a short drive from Clyde — alone last year, according to data from

Prof McDonald told that driving the population surge are international students. He believes there are more than 550,000 living and studying in Melbourne right now, and most won’t leave once their education is complete.

Other factors include an increasingly aging population, a steady birthrate and migration from overseas but also domestically.

“Until recently, people were drawn to Melbourne from Sydney because of housing costs and that’s still the case. But it’s also about lifestyle — this is the world’s most liveable city.”

He said the only way to restrict Melbourne’s growth would be to cut skilled migration — something former NSW premier Bob Carr did after famously declaring “Sydney is full”.

Prof McDonald said Sydney experienced a skills shortage after that and the same would likely happen to Melbourne.

Point Cook in 2018. Picture: NearmapSource:Supplied

Point Cook in 2010. Picture: NearmapSource:Supplied

Clyde North in 2018. Picture: NearmapSource:Supplied

Clyde North in 2010. Picture: NearmapSource:Supplied

The population debate is nothing new. How many people can one city handle before it gets too crowded? Before the strain on hospitals and school and roads and public transport becomes too much of a burden?

Salt told 9News last week Melbourne is like a car that’s being driven too fast.

“You get the speed, things start to shake,” he said. “There are times when a city grows too fast and I think we’re in that time at the moment … But that does not mean shutting the gate … it might mean closing it a bit.”

Entrepreneur Dick Smith is leading calls for Australia to seriously consider cutting immigration.

“It’s just an absolute disaster for our children and grandchildren,” Mr Smith said in December.

“It will destroy Australia as we know it today. We’re going to end up like the US where you have something like 50 million people on the dole who will never have a job,” he said. “It’s just complete madness.”

That “madness” may be coming to Melbourne, but other capital cities are enjoying steadier growth and, in some cases, no growth at all. Prof McDonald said Perth is a primary example of “things changing”.

“You only have to look at Perth to see they’ve halted, almost literally.”

Melbourne is changing, fast. Picture: Sarah MatraySource:News Corp Australia