By David Ross
Jobs and growth, that is the mantra of governments Australia-wide. But where are the jobs, where is the population growth and do they line up together?
- Wyndham, between Melbourne and Geelong, has 155,000 more people who work than it has local jobs
- Most Australian cities similarly have a high concentration of jobs in the CBD and a spread-out population
- Urban planning experts say governments need to intervene to encourage employment in outer-metropolitan areas
An analysis of census data by ABC’s The Business has found some areas of Australia are sucking up new jobs and workers, while others are suffering from a lack of jobs growth, forcing many new residents into mega-commutes.
Wyndham — located in Melbourne’s sprawling south-west along the highway between Melbourne and Geelong — experienced one of Australia’s largest population increases between 2011 and 2016, according to government statistics, adding 65,000 people in just five years.
According to 2011 census figures, the area had 43,401 people working in the area, spread across most industry categories. Compare that to the 161,577 people who reported they lived in the area and worked.
This left Wyndham with a jobs-to-workers deficit of almost 118,000 in 2011, forcing many to commute and work elsewhere.
Commuters struggle to get parking at Wyndham Station in Melbourne’s west. (ABC News: Simon Winter)
This figure had grown much worse by 2016, with people working in the area growing to 61,909 but people in the area who work growing to 217,118, leaving a total jobs deficit of almost 155,000.
All this means that after five years of breakneck population growth, Wyndham added 37,000 fewer jobs than workers.
That is 37,000 people who are commuting out of the area to work.
The reason we look specifically at workers is the population of many of these growth areas are boosted by baby booms, as well as tree-changers and sea-changers fleeing the city but who may not work.
It is a similar story across Australia’s capitals.
Tasmania has had a lot of employment growth in central Hobart, with population growth more spread out.
Western Australia also saw extremely strong job creation in and around the centre of Perth, with much of the population growth happening outside the city.
According to census figures, there are almost 1 million Australians who work in the centres of Sydney and Melbourne.
Broader figures for NSW are harder to get a handle on, due to local government amalgamations in 2016 that disrupted census figures, but the pattern is broadly still clear — Sydney magnetically attracts workers, though Parramatta gives a good show too, with 130,000 working in the area in 2016.
Workers on mega-commutes from job deserts
All these people need to get to work, which may explain bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways and the scrum at suburban railway stations each and every weekday morning.
Peak hour starts early in Wyndham, with the station car park filling by 7:30am, forcing many who drive and commute to park illegally along the verges and across the road on the grass.
The traffic and parking snarl are so bad the local council has reportedly raked in more than $1 million in parking fines from commuters struggling to find spaces in and around the local stations.
A local resident told The Business the commute was a killer for those with young kids and families, and parking was getting so bad that he and some other families were talking about hiring charter buses to drop people off for the trains that come every 10-15 minutes.
The local bus routes routinely arrive after the trains have left.
“It definitely will help if there are CBD kind of situations out here where we have more jobs on the west side, as it’s expanding a lot,” he said.
Another Wyndham resident said he had a 90-minute, 60-kilometre commute each way every day, because there were “no IT jobs on this side of town”.
This mega commute, while at the extreme end for some residents, is not uncommon. ABS census data show many Sydney workers have an 80-kilometre commute each way.
Many Wyndham residents spend 45 minutes or more just on the train each way to work and back.
Australian suburbs are hollowing out
Principal of the Strategy Planning Group David Chalke said, although not new, the issue of workers living far from work was growing as industry left the suburbs.
“I see Victoria as being the prototype of what happens when you rapidly deindustrialise an economy,” he said.
“Unless government takes action, businesses tend to cluster together with other like businesses and services that support them, and that means the CBD.”
Kate Shaw, an urban geographer at the University of Melbourne, told The Business the current approach to where jobs were located and where new residents lived had huge economic benefits for business, but large costs for commuters and significant environmental downsides.
“People who need to go to those jobs have to travel extraordinary distances every day,” she said.
“Often people have to stand, because their trains and trams are so incredibly crowded these days.”
Commuters crowd onto a peak-hour train at Wyndham Station in Melbourne’s west. (ABC News: Simon Winter)
Dr Shaw said the anything-goes attitude from state and local governments all around Australia was encouraging an “LA style of development”.
“In Australia we have a situation where developers and investors build what they want, where they want, and strategic plans tend to play catch-up,” she said.
“That results in a concentration of jobs and commercial activities in central areas that are attractive to those kinds of businesses.”
‘Jobs needed in the urban fringe, not the regions’
It was not always this way.
In the past, many factories and businesses went to the suburbs to be close to workers. For example, car factories in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth, as well as in Geelong and Melbourne.
But Mr Chalke said the death of manufacturing spelled doom for this kind of industry and now the mission for government should not be sending jobs to the regions or rural areas, but to the suburbs.
“The real problem is not in people living out in the regional areas, but it’s in the outer-metropolitan areas, the urban fringe — that’s where the jobs are needed,” Mr Chalke said.
“The real challenge is getting jobs and work out near where people live and not out to the regions.”
He said the initial cost of putting jobs in one place and the people in another seemed low, but swiftly added up.
“When you add in the cost of commuting to Melbourne and the time lost commuting to work, two or three hours a day, the cost is astronomical,” he said.
“The efficiency costs are the ones you don’t see, the loss of efficiency is a hit to the whole economy.”