The Future of Australia

Australians have a critical issue to decide: do they want two mega-cities (Sydney and Melbourne), or one mega-region encompassing Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and cities along the east coast?

Australian authorities are already planning two highly densified mega-cities of 8 million people each. The fundamental problem with this is that their population projections are getting shorter, down to 30 years. This means the apparent population increase is smaller and they implicitly assume that population will ceased to grow at all after 30 years. In fact, it will continue to grow. Sydney and Melbourne may increase their populations to 10m, 12m, 14m, or even 16m each in the next 60-100 years. At this size, they would be 3rd world mega-cities. It may not happen as it may be self-correcting: the desirable immigrants, on whom much of the growth in population is based, may not wish to come to such over-crowded, high density, low liveability cities. They may stay at home in better conditions.

The authorities are relying on digital smart technology to compensate for densification and the loss of world leading spatial liveability. Smart city technology seems to be directed mainly at sustainable climate change and pulling down vast areas of leafy middle suburban housing, destroying its character. There is an alternative that is both sustainable, liveable and stimulates high-octane innovation.

Authorities appear to rely on shared driverless electric vehicle (DEV). Since densification will do away with private garages and private cars, huge numbers of empty DEFs will circulate 24/7 causing greater congestion and damaging connectivity. Their main constraint is geometry: there is limited space in CBDs to set down and pick up passengers in rush hours. Streets will be more crowded than railway platforms.

Authorities rely on greater not less connectivity of people in densified, more congested cities to increase innovation. Are they aware of Chinese experience and their innovation policy? The Chinese discovered that the new high-rise office towers in the Shanghai CBD were only 30% occupied. They found that business owners could not get staff to travel through the congestion into the CBD. Owners transferred their businesses to outer hubs closer to where staff lived. The hubs are not connected to each other by public transport, so personal connections were reduced further, and innovation faded. The Chinese Government’s policy now is to build new cities outside major cities on High Speed Rail lines.

In Japan, a new city of 1½ million people has grown outside Tokyo on the HSR line since it was built. In the UK, some companies are already moving their headquarters from London to Birmingham on the HSR being constructed to connect them. Birmingham is closer to home for many commuters than London.

These developments are the beginning or extension, not of sustainable mega-cities, but of innovative mega-regions. They are primarily directed at creating and spurring innovation. It is the flying wedge for productivity improvement, increased production, greater growth and more jobs for all, as it always has been. Over time, innovation has created huge numbers of ordinary jobs and jobs for the kids. Greater prosperity for all must be explained better. Sustainability can be achieved better in brand new cities.

How will the people react to squeezing in an extra not just 4m, but 5m, 6m, even 7m into Sydney and Melbourne? How will these people meet easily when they concentrate in hubs like Dandenong and Box Hill in Melbourne, which are unconnected by adequate public transport, and congestion is extreme? Dandenong to Tullamarine Airport hub would be a long journey (when the rail connection is built) into, change, and out of the CBD, adding to rail congestion. The same applies in Sydney, for example, Badgerys Creek Airport hub connection to, say, Liverpool, and connections to all other hubs.

Australia should choose to develop a mega-region connecting Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Newcastle. The ideal size for a city is said to be 2 to 3 million, built on a HSR line to a major city CBD. Melbourne reached 3m in 1988. The aim is to house +10m of the 24m projected population increase (major cities: 4m+4m+2m=10m) in the next few decades in new regional cities. More new cities would expand to take up extra people, rather than the two major cities grow more, should the population grow towards 75m this century, without destroying their spatial liveability.


The new cities would all be connected by HSR and fast freight rail, powered by renewable energy, and by major airports for transport. High speed global communications and digital infrastructure would be in place. Cities would be self-sustaining for water and electricity and have a small ecological footprint. They would be well served with their own public transport, bicycle tracks and green spaces. The cities would be along the coast near beaches. They would have first class education and health services. Housing would be lower cost than in major cities. Commuting to the nearest CBD would be under an hour by HSR at low fares. The new cities would be more attractive to settlers than the old cities. New rural cities on low-cost land and the low-cost construction in the country would cost less than in the major cities, where high cost houses must be demolished first and old infrastructure refurbished.

Authorities plan to increase Sydney and Melbourne populations by some 4m. At an average of two residents a dwelling and four dwellings a block, 500,000 single family, single story houses with big yards on ¼ acre blocks will be demolished in middle suburbs to build 2m dwellings of 4 units in 2 stories per ¼ acre block. More houses would be demolished to make way for more shops and services. Schools would be high rise or more houses demolished for school yards and playing fields. More dwellings would be needed for the 1m people displaced by demolition. Bigger populations would cause more disruption.

HSR is no longer a white elephant. New innovative concepts have made it customer friendly, really robust and very viable. It would be self-financing within its 10 year construction period and end housing unaffordability. HSR becomes a means to an end, mega-regional infrastructure, not an end in its-self. There would be some short-term disruption to build HSR in the major cities, but nothing like decades of demolition of +500,000 x 2 houses in two cities and disruption of new and renewed old infrastructure.

Each new city on HSR would focus on its own speciality R and D. Leading overseas experts in these fields would be hired for the new cities’ world class universes and research centres in the chosen focus areas. Leading high-tech businesses with compatible interests would be encouraged to set up in the cities. High-tech staff would be trained and employed. The Australian mega-region would compete and cooperate with the other 18 leading mega-regions in the world, especially in Asia. It would grow Australia’s world leading prosperity and maintain Australia’s world leading liveability by establishing world standing innovation centres and world peer interactions. The mega-region would be primed to participate in the coming 4th industrial revolution with full government support. Government, private enterprise, academia and society would cooperate to concentrate total attention on innovation and its development, and in building new smart sustainable cities where smart technology is best applied.

The mega-region would enhance Australia’s competitive advantage in skilled, high-tech and entrepreneurial immigration to complement Australians. Mega-region growth would relieve population pressure and save Sydney and Melbourne from loss of their spatial liveability. Mega-cities like London, with a population of +8m, was ranked recently at 53 in the world for liveability and New York 56.

The current runaway mega-city concept is too narrow, too short-term and too high cost in both funding and loss of spatial liveability to fully achieve Australia’s potential future. People are not being inspired by the full range of possibilities available to them. One of the options, mega-regions, is missing.

Australia needs an innovation focused mega-region now to join the most advanced in the world.

Authorities have decided on mega-cities already. Australian mega-cities focussed primarily on sustainability, not wholeheartedly on innovation should they arise, risk missing the 4th industrial revolution and sinking to 3rd world size, levels of prosperity and liveability. Badgerys Creek Airport interests that banned construction of HSR infrastructure for a mega-region in Australia before the population doubled and before the 4th industrial revolution arrived would be condemned by history.

The authorities should listen to the people and offer them a better vision for the future of Australia. There should be positive bipartisan cooperation in singe-minded implementation of an Australian innovative mega-region founded on a strong sense of national purpose of all leaders and participants. PJK©9.3.18

Back To Top