A land sale billboard in Mickleham, in Melbourne’s outer north, selling the ‘picture of perfect’. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
All week we’ve been investigating population as part of our Matters of State coverage in the lead-up to the Victorian election.
But we wanted to hear from you about the things you wanted us to investigate.
We asked for your questions, through online stories and the ABC News Messenger bot, and have answered some of the things you wanted to know.
Don’t all Australian cities have problems supplying enough water?
One of the big surprises for us in the newsroom was how many of you asked about water.
Lots of people were concerned about whether our current water storage infrastructure would cope with the increased population.
Melbourne Water has looked into this.
In a report released last year, it found that under existing circumstances, water shortfalls — where demand outstrips supply — could begin to emerge as early as 2028.
But there are a number of strategies in place to avoid that, including optimising the water grid and using diverse water sources.
“Alternative sources of water such as rainwater, stormwater and recycled water can be utilised for a range of purposes including watering gardens, parks and sportsgrounds, reducing demand on our drinking water supplies,” a Melbourne Water spokesman said.
“The Victorian Desalination Plant also provides us with a rainfall independent water source and can deliver up to 150 gigalitres of water per year.”
That’s around one-third of Melbourne’s yearly water needs
Matters of State
Melbourne to become our biggest city
Melbourne is growing fast, but roads are clogged and services are lacking. So what’s the city’s plan to cope with its rapidly growing population?
We also know that behavioural change is possible and it does make a difference.
Melburnians are using 25 per cent less water per person than they were in 2005/06 — but it’s still more than they should.
They’re averaging 161L per person per day, about two-thirds of a bucket more per person than the target of 155 litres.
Another question was about whether the urban spread was encroaching on vital water infrastructure, but in most cases, that’s not a big problem.
“The majority of Melbourne’s drinking water comes from protected catchments that are located in national parks and state forest with limited public access,” the Melbourne Water spokesman said.
“These catchments were set aside exclusively for harvesting water more than 100 years ago and are not available for development.”
The future security and supply of Melbourne’s water is a big question for Victorian voters. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)
Can this ‘population’ thing be broken down?
Many of you also wanted to know what caused the population increase.
For example, how much of it was down to immigration compared with new births or people moving from interstate?
We put the question to the data experts at the Australian Bureau of Statistics and they quickly came up with the answer.
Within an hour they had delivered an Excel spreadsheet with all of that information going back 25 years — the last time Victoria’s annual population increase was below 10,000.
The most recent figures, from 2017, showed Victoria’s population grew by 139,518 people.
That’s a 2.2 per cent increase which took the state’s total population to well over 6.3 million.
The data shows that immigration was the biggest factor behind the rise.
158,477 people moved to Victoria from overseas and 73,947 Victorians left to live overseas, leaving us with a net increase of 84,530 people.
The natural change in population was the second largest factor.
There were 78,189 births and only 39,587 deaths meaning a natural increase of 38,602 people.
Movement between the states was the third factor.
While 87,874 people moved to Victoria from interstate — that is, even more than the new births tally — almost as many (71,488) Victorians packed up and moved interstate leaving a net increase of just 16,386 people.
Nationally, 62 per cent of Australia’s population growth was due to net overseas migration and the remaining 38 per cent due to natural increases.
Is there a city that has managed similar population growth?
*This was the people’s choice question, as voted by our super switched-on ABC News Messenger audience.
If you want to get involved in the voting next week, and already have the Messenger app on your phone, you can sign up to receive Victorian election alerts.
Melbourne’s population is booming, but it’s not the first city to face this issue.
SGS Economics and Planning director Marcus Spiller reckons London has dealt with it the best.
He told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Rafael Epstein that even though London was bigger than Melbourne, it’s adding a similar number of residents each year.
“London’s been growing by around about 100,000 people or more for some decades now,” Mr Spiller said.
“That’s the same amount of housing, transport, health services, education services.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re not without their challenges and problems but in my observation they’ve coped reasonably well.”
He said one of the biggest influences behind London’s success was establish a Greater London Authority with its own elected mayor.
“Back in the 90s when the Blair government was elected, they switched the management of London, or the planning of London, from Westminster … to a metropolitan government,” Mr Spiller said.
“A lot of functions that were previously run out of Westminster were devolved down to a metropolitan government which seems to have facilitated more effective planning and better coordination.”
He said this allowed them to push big policy ideas through, including a congestion charge on anyone driving in the central London ‘congestion zone’ with the funds diverted to improve public transport and inclusionary zoning for affordable housing.
“It won’t happen if it’s a central government trying to impose it on a metropolitan community,” he said.
“[Former London mayors] Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Sadiq Khan are all politicians … but they all stand for London.
“The interesting thing about that succession of politicians is that the vision for London has remained more or less constant. Whereas if you look at Melbourne since 2000 we’ve had four comprehensive metropolitan planning strategies.
“This current Government has tried to break that pattern by refreshing Plan Melbourne, which was generated by the previous government, but nevertheless there is a strong incentive in our system for each contender state government to come up with its own fresh plan.
“What we want really for Melbourne is consistency and long term vision.”
While London has a larger population than Melbourne, it’s growing at the same rate. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
Can the government force new developments for essential services?
There are a lot of parties involved in planning new developments, but in Victoria it’s the Victorian Planning Authority which takes the lead.
It is a state government statutory authority that reports to the Minister for Planning.
The VPA is responsible for designing new suburbs that are well-serviced and well-connected.
That includes ensuring that much of the essential infrastructure is delivered before the first residents move in.
They can pass some of that cost on to developers.
A Planning Department spokesman said the VPA conducts research to determine the infrastructure needs of a new community, including schools, roads, parks, community facilities and town centres.
Then they build those into the town plans.
“These plans reserve land for vital infrastructure and are created in close collaboration with state government agencies, councils and developers, who then build this infrastructure,” the spokesman said.
“These plans also charge developers significant state and council levies to help pay for the services.”
A billboard for a new school at Kalkallo, 30 kilometres north of Melbourne. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)