A strong low-pressure system has meant severe thunderstorm and hail warnings are in effect for much of the New South Wales South Coast. At the same time, very dry conditions, strong winds and high temperatures are fuelling dozens of bushfires across Queensland.
The two events are actually influencing each other. As the low-pressure system moves over the Greater Sydney area, a connected wind change is pushing warm air (and stronger winds) to Queensland, worsening the fire conditions.
These lows over NSW are the kind we might see a couple of times a year – they’re not just regular weather systems, but neither are they massively out of the ordinary.
However, when combined with the current record-breaking heat in Queensland, the extra wind is creating exceptionally dangerous fire conditions. Queensland’s emergency services minister, Craig Crawford, has warned Queenslanders:
We are expecting a firestorm. We are expecting it to be so severe that it won’t even be safe on the beach […] The only thing to do is to go now.
At least 80 bushfires were burning in Queensland on Wednesday, with more than a dozen fire warnings issued to communities near the Deepwater blaze. Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Bob Gee said that “people will burn to death” unless they evacuate the area.
These fires have come during a record-breaking heatwave. On Tuesday Cooktown recorded 43.9℃, beating the previous November high set 70 years ago by more than two degrees. Cairns has broken its November heatwave record by five whole degrees.
Grasslands and forests are very dry after very little rain over the past two years. Adding to these conditions are strong winds, which make the fires hotter, faster and harder to predict. This is where the storm conditions in NSW come in: they are affecting air movements across both states.
A large low-pressure system, currently over the Hunter Valley area, is causing the NSW storms. As it moves, it’s pushing a mass of warm air ahead of it, bringing both higher temperatures and stronger winds across the Queensland border.
Once the low-pressure system moves across the Hunter area to the Tasman Sea east of Sydney, it will drag what we call a “wind change” across Queensland. This will increase wind speeds through Queensland and temperatures, making the fire situation even worse.
This is why emergency services are keeping watch for “fire tornado” conditions. When very hot air from large fires rises rapidly into a turbulent atmosphere, it can create fire storms – thunderstorms containing lightning or burning embers. Strong wind changes can also mean fire tornadoes form, sucking up burning material. Both of these events spread fires quickly and unpredictably.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely the heavy rains over NSW will have a long-term effect on the drought gripping much of the state. While very heavy rains have fallen over 24 hours, the drought conditions have persisted for years.
The wet weather may bring some temporary relief, but NSW will need much more rain over a longer period to truly alleviate the drought.
In the meantime, the Bureau of Meteorology will be monitoring the Queensland situation closely. You can check weather warnings for your area on the bureau’s website.
Sulawesi’s recent tsunami is a striking reminder of the devastating, deadly effects that the sudden arrival of a large volume of water can have.
Published today, our new research shows what might happen if a tsunami hit Sydney Harbour. A large tsunami could cause significant flooding in Manly. Even very small waves might result in dangerous currents in the entrance of the Harbour and in narrow channels such as at the Spit Bridge.
Beyond Sydney, large areas of the east coast of Australia would also be affected.
Making waves: the tsunami risk in Australia
Our study considered a range of tsunamis, with heights ranging from just 5cm to nearly 1.5m when measured outside the Heads of Sydney Harbour. These wave heights sound small, but because the wavelengths of tsunami are so long (tens to hundreds of kilometres), these waves contain a very large mass of water and can be incredibly powerful and destructive. Wave heights also increase as the tsunami encounters shallower water.
Most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes at sea, where a shift in the sea floor creates the sudden movement of a large volume of water.
Our study approach involved modelling the likely effects of different-sized tsunamis generated by earthquakes on the New Hebrides trench to the northeast (in line with the Vanuatu islands) and the Puysegur trench (south of New Zealand).
For each event we assigned Average Recurrence Intervals (ARI), which provide an average indication of how often tsunamis of different sizes are likely to occur.
The tsunamis we studied range from an ARI of 25 years to 4,700 years. The tsunami with an ARI of 4,700 had a wave height of 1.4m outside the Heads and is the largest tsunami we could reasonably expect in Sydney Harbour. An event with an ARI of 4,700 can also be considered as an event with a 1.5% chance of occurring over a 70-year lifetime.
The tsunamis we’d expect to see in Sydney Harbour would be a sequence of waves with about 15-40 minutes on average between each peak. Some waves might break, and others might appear as a rapid rising and falling of the water level.
The highest water levels would depend on the tide and the size of the event – the largest events could raise the water level up to several metres higher than the predicted tide levels.
The visualisation below represents a tsunami in a fictional location, and shows the rise and fall of water levels (with time sped up).
A tsunami is not just one single wave, but generally a sequence of waves, lasting hours to days. Within the Harbour, larger waves are most likely to breach land, and high tide increases the risk.
The narrow part of Manly – where The Corso part-pedestrian mall is located – is one of the most exposed locations. The largest tsunamis we could expect may flood the entire stretch of The Corso between the open ocean and the Harbour.
The low-lying bays on the southern side of the Harbour could also be affected. A tsunami large enough to flood right across Manly is estimated to have a minimum ARI of 550 years, or at most a 12% chance of occurring over an average lifetime.
Examining these worst-case scenarios over time shows how this flooding across Manly may occur from both the ocean side and the harbour side, isolating North Head.
Even though the smaller tsunamis may not flood the land, they could be very destructive within the Harbour itself. Our modelling shows the current speeds caused by smaller tsunamis have the potential to be both damaging and dangerous.
The map below shows the maximum tsunami current speeds that could occur within the Harbour for the largest event we could reasonably expect.
Areas exposed to the open ocean and locations with a narrow, shallow channel – such as those near the Spit Bridge or Anzac Bridge – would experience the fastest current speeds. A closer look at the area around the Spit Bridge, shows how even smaller tsunamis could cause high current speeds.
The animation below shows a comparison between the current speeds experienced during a regular spring high tide and those that may occur if a tsunami generated by a 8.5 magnitude earthquake on the New Hebrides trench coincided with a spring high tide. A tsunami of this size (0.5m when outside the Harbour) has been estimated to occur once, on average, every 110 years (a 47% chance of occurring over a lifetime).
This video below shows similar current speeds (7m/s based on video analysis) when the Japanese tsunami of 2011 arrived in the marina in Santa Cruz, California, and caused US$28 million of damage.
Historical records show us what happened when a tsunami generated by an earthquake off Chile reached Sydney Harbour in 1960. We didn’t have any instruments measuring current speeds then, but we have witness accounts and we know that many ships were ripped from their moorings.
A whirlpool and significant erosion was also reported in the Spit Bridge area. Photographs from the time show just how much sand was washed away at Clontarf Beach.
A large tsunami affecting Australia is unlikely but possible. Remember that tsunamis are a sequence of waves that may occur over hours to days, and the biggest wave in the sequence could occur at any time.
The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC), jointly operated by Geoscience Australian and the Bureau of Meteorology, provides a tsunami warning system for all of Australia.
The bathymetry compilations used by this research are publicly available and can be viewed as a publication with links for free download.
The row over shock jock Alan Jones and what will be displayed on the Sydney Opera House sails about The Everest horse race involves two sets of issues.
One is around whether it is appropriate to use this Sydney icon as an advertising hoarding.
The other is the appalling, but typical, behaviour of Jones and the weak, but probably not surprising, capitulation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to the pressure of the racing industry, which had its arm strengthened by this bullying presenter from 2GB.
The details of the row are now familiar. Racing NSW wanted a full ad for The Everest’s Tuesday barrier draw on the lit-up sails; the Opera House resisted, saying it would only show the jockeys’ colours; Jones abused Opera House CEO Louise Herron on air on Friday; the Premier later that day overrode Herron and gave Racing NSW and Jones most of what was being demanded.
The broad question of ads on the Opera House seems to me less important than Jones’ behaviour and the state government’s abject falling into line with the demands made by Racing NSW.
Some people have no problem with the Opera House being used for advertising. They don’t subscribe to the view that it’s low rent to turn this World Heritage structure to commercial purposes, nor do they comprehend the fuss about having it as part of the promotion of a particular (mega rich) horse race – as distinct, say, from an Australian national team.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on Friday that “people should chill out a bit. The fact is that this race is beamed around the world. People do associate Sydney with the Sydney Opera House”.
On a unity ticket with “Albo”, “ScoMo” doesn’t understand “why people are getting so precious about it”. For the man remembered for the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, this is “just common sense”.
“This is one of the biggest events of the year,” Morrison said on Sunday. “Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has? These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state, for the city.”
There may be room for argument about the promotional issue but not about Jones’ interview.
The full horror of that tirade has to be heard to be believed – with its haranguing, denigration, abuse and threats.
Jones, with close personal connections to the racing industry, injected into it maximum nastiness and minimum civility. Herron probably should have told him to call back when he’d found his manners and hung up. But she didn’t.
It was of course Jones displaying one aspect of his trademark. He and others of his ilk use insult and aggression as part of their “brand”, whether in interviews or in commentary.
Over the years, Jones has got away with an extraordinary amount –
although recently a court caught up with him when he and 2GB lost a
huge defamation case over claims he made about the Wagner family being responsible for deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.
Imre Salusinszky, who was press secretary to former NSW premier Mike Baird, has written about how the shock jocks and the tabloid media wield their power at NSW state level.
The Howard government felt it had to manage Jones as best it could (as does the present NSW government). There was a Howard staffer whose remit included dealing with the Jones demands and complaints.
I recall a minister who’d been in that government later telling me how he’d given in to Jones on a certain matter just to get him off his back (after checking with advisers that to do so wouldn’t create any harm).
Jones insulted Malcolm Turnbull when the latter was communication minister, but Turnbull fought back and then refused to go on air with him. Until the 2016 election campaign, that is – when then prime minister Turnbull felt he had to have a brief rapprochement with his bete noire.
By her action on Friday, Berejiklian reinforced the perception that the politicians are scared of a bully who rages from his studio pulpit.
But according to social researcher Rebecca Huntley, they have less to fear than often thought. “15 years of research and I haven’t found Alan Jones to be that much more influential with voters than ABC radio or the SMH. He is only powerful because politicians think he is, ” she tweeted.
Berejiklian on Sunday defended the outcome, saying it was “at the back end of the decision-making process” – Racing NSW had earlier reportedly wanted to drape banners from the Harbour Bridge – and a “good compromise”.
The NSW government claims that Friday’s decision was not a reaction to Jones’ diatribe but the culmination of negotiations that had been underway for some while.
Nevertheless, it represented the premier’s cave-in to Racing NSW and came across as a victory for Jones’ bullying.
Now that a discussion of “bullying” in various situations is the flavour of public debate, isn’t it time that the media who run Jones’ programs (2GB is majority owned by Fairfax) imposed some standards and the politicians who listen to him grew some spine?
It might feel like the depths of winter, but Australian fire services are preparing for an early start to the bushfire season. Sydney has been covered with smoke from hazard reduction burns, and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service has forecast a “horrific” season.
Predicting the severity of a bushfire season isn’t easy, and – much like the near-annual announcements of the “worst flu season on record” – repeated warnings can diminish their urgency.
However, new modelling that combines Bureau of Meteorology data with NASA satellite imaging has found that record-setting July warmth and low rainfall have created conditions very similar to 2013, when highly destructive bushfires burned across NSW and Victoria.
Crucially, this research has found we’re approaching a crucial dryness threshold, past which fires are historically far more dangerous.
On September 10, 2013 several bushfires in Sydney’s West caused havoc well before the official start of the bushfire season. These were a precursor to fires that destroyed more than 200 properties a month later. Warm, dry winter weather had dried out the fuels in Sydney’s forests and bush reserves beyond “normal” levels for the time of year.
The timing and severity of those preseason fires were a reminder that the region’s forests are flammable all year round; they can burn whenever the fuel they contain dries out past a certain threshold.
In most forests, there is an abundance of fuel in the form of leaf litter, dead twigs, branches and logs, lower vegetation such as shrubs and grasses, as well as higher foliage and branches.
The flammability of all these different kinds of fuel depends largely on their moisture content. Leaf litter and fine dead branches on the soil surface can dry out in a matter of days, whereas logs may take weeks or months to lose their moisture. The moisture content of shrubs and tree canopies varies depending on the amount of water in the soil, so they reflect the overall rainfall and temperatures across a whole season.
The flammability of an entire forest is therefore a complex calculation of all these different kinds of fuel (both alive and dead) and their different moisture levels.
In a recent collaborative study, we combined data from a Bureau of Meteorology project that maps water availability levels across Australia with satellite imagery to develop new tools for mapping and monitoring moisture levels of different fuels in forests and woodlands.
We checked these tools by modelling fuel moisture levels during fires in NSW, Victoria and the ACT between 2000 and 2014, and comparing our predictions to historical bushfires.
Our research has identified critical dryness thresholds associated with significant increases in fire area. Rather than a gradual increase in flammability as forests dry out, when dead fuel moisture drops below 15% subsequent bushfires are larger. Another jump occurs when dead fuel moisture levels fall below 10%. We found similar thresholds in growing plants, although their moisture content is measured differently.
These dryness thresholds are pivotal, because they may represent the breakdown of moist natural barriers in landscapes that prevent fires from spreading. Understanding these mechanisms makes it possible to predict fire risk much more accurately.
As part of this project we compared the fuel moisture in Sydney Basin’s forested areas in 2013 and 2017. As shown in the chart below, currently the live fuel moisture level is tracking well below the 2013 values, and is approaching a crucial threshold (indicated by the dotted line).
The moisture content of dead fuel has been more variable, but it has also dipped below the 2013 curve and, if warm dry weather continues, could reach critical levels before the end of August.
In another worrying sign, mapping shows critically dry live fuel is much more abundant in 2017 than it was in 2013.
It’s clear that much of the Sydney Basin is dangerously primed for major bushfires, at least until it receives major rainfall. Forecasts for windy but largely dry weather in coming weeks may exacerbate this problem.
These new insights into landscape-scale fuel dryness provide a powerful indicator of what might be expected. They also build our capacity for week by week monitoring of fire potential.
Preparation by both fire management authorities and exposed homeowners is now an immediate priority, to cope with the strong likelihood of an early and severe fire season.
Matthias Boer, Associate Professor, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University; Rachael Helene Nolan, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Technology Sydney, and Ross Bradstock, Professor, Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong
On Wednesday evening, the New South Wales state government passed legislation empowering police to dismantle the Martin Place homeless camp in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. This follows similar actions in Victoria, where police cleared a homeless camp outside Flinders Street Station. Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle proposed a bylaw to ban rough sleeping in the city.
In March, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, censured the City of Melbourne’s actions, stating that:
… the criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law.
As the special rapporteur highlighted, homelessness is already “a gross violation of the right to adequate housing”. To further discriminate against people rendered homeless by systemic injustice is prohibited under international human rights law.
In contrast to her Melbourne counterpart, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore had been adopting a more human-rights-based approach to resolving the challenges presented by the Martin Place camp.
After negotiating with camp organisers, Moore made it clear her council would not disperse the camp until permanent housing was found for all of the residents. As she pointed out:
You can’t solve homelessness without housing — what we urgently need is more affordable housing and we urgently need the New South Wales government to step up and do their bit.
It’s no secret that housing affordability in both Sydney and Melbourne has reached crisis point. And homelessness is an inevitable consequence of this. But we have seen little real action from government to resolve these issues.
The NSW government has been offering people temporary crisis accommodation or accommodation on the outskirts of the city. This leaves them isolated from community and without access to services.
In contrast, these inner-city camps don’t just provide shelter, food, safety and community; they also send a powerful political message to government that it must act to resolve the housing affordability crisis.
Having established well-defined rules of conduct, a pool of shared resources and access to free shelter and food, the Martin Place camp can be seen as part of the commons movement.
This movement seeks to create alternative models of social organisation to challenge the prevailing market-centric approaches imposed by neoliberalism and to reclaim the Right to the City.
It is not surprising that right-wing pundits have described these camps as “eyesores” or that they make NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “completely uncomfortable”. The breach of human rights these camps represent, and the challenge they pose to the current system, should make people uncomfortable.
Unlike most comparable nations, Australia has very limited legal protections for human rights. In this context, actions like the Martin Place and Flinders Street camps are one of the few options available to victims of systemic injustice to exercise their democratic right to hold government to account.
In seeking to sweep this issue under the carpet, both the City of Melbourne and the NSW government are not only further breaching the right to adequate housing, they are also trying to silence political protest.
It is clear from Moore’s demands, and the NSW government’s own actions, that the Martin Place camp is working to create pressure for action. What will motivate the government to resolve this crisis once the camps have been dispersed?
As Nelson Mandela argued in 1991 at the ANC’s Bill of Rights Conference:
A simple vote, without food, shelter and health care, is to use first-generation rights as a smokescreen to obscure the deep underlying forces which dehumanise people. It is to create an appearance of equality and justice, while by implication socioeconomic inequality is entrenched.
We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. We must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society.
Mandela’s words were hugely relevant to apartheid South Africa, where a ruling elite had established a deeply racist and unjust system that linked political disenfranchisement and material deprivation. But they also resonate today in Australia where inequality is on the rise – driven in large part by disparities in property ownership.
Homelessness is a deeply dehumanising force that strips people of access to fundamental rights. The policies that are creating this crisis must be seen as unacceptable breaches of human rights. We need to start asking whether our current economic system is compatible with a truly democratic society.
Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.
Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia. It’s also one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse, as a key arrival point for refugees and new migrants when they first settle in Australia.
However, this kind of reaction can pin the blame for infrastructure and affordability problems on culturally diverse populations who may have already lived in Australia for many years, if not several generations.
Greater Western Sydney includes Blacktown, the Blue Mountains, Camden,
Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield
Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Parramatta, Penrith, the Hills Shire and Wollondilly.
We examined census data compiled by WESTIR Ltd, a non-profit research organisation based in Western Sydney, partly funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. These data show that Greater Western Sydney’s population increased by 9.8% between 2011 and 2016. Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, it grew by 16%.
About 55% of those living there were born in Australia, and about 39% where born elsewhere (the remainder did not state their place of birth). Most put English or Australian as their first response when asked about their ancestry.
New births are slightly down in the region, meaning growth is coming from other sources. This includes new international migration arrivals, but also incoming residents from other parts of New South Wales and interstate.
Greater Western Sydney has long-established cultural and linguistic diversity. The percentage of residents born overseas has increased from 34.1% in 2006 to 38.7% in 2016. Overall, the west accounts for 50.2% of the overseas-born population for the whole of metropolitan Sydney.
Reasoned debates on sustainable migration intake levels are a crucial part of discussions of urban and regional growth. There are valid criticisms of “Big Australia” policies, based on resource and environmental sustainability.
But while the number of new arrivals settling in Western Sydney has increased steadily since the second world war, with a significant jump over the last decade reflecting accelerated skilled migration policies to fill labour shortages, the majority of overseas-born living in the region are long-term settlers who have been in Australia for ten years or more.
The data show that 64% of Western Sydney residents have at least one parent born overseas. This is greater than the number of those born overseas. This correlates with national data indicating that Australian-born second-generation migrant residents outnumber those born outside of Australia.
So while critics may look at non-white Western Sydney residents and assume they are recent migrants, what they’re often really seeing is multiple generations of multiculturalism. Most of these people are long-term local residents, not necessarily a sudden influx of new arrivals.
In addition, not all overseas-born residents are permanent settlers. Australia takes far larger numbers of temporary entrants than it has in the past. Most of these temporary visa holders, such as international students and temporary skilled workers, live in major metropolitan areas and their surrounds, like Western Sydney.
While some portion of these populations do stay on longer-term, they are not all permanent settlers who will add to long-term population growth. Net migration figures, which take into account people who depart Australia every year as well as arrive, and exclude short-term visitors, have generally been decreasing over the past six years.
New Zealand citizens moving under Trans-Tasman agreements and migrants from the United Kingdom are still among the largest migrant groups in Greater Western Sydney.
In many local government areas in Western Sydney – such as Wollondilly, the Hills Shire, Penrith, Hawkesbury and Campbelltown – England and/or New Zealand feature in the top five countries of birth of overseas-born residents.
If anxieties about migration and population in Western Sydney are based on genuine sustainability concerns and not xenophobia, why target mostly refugees and non-white migrants? Why focus only on areas with large non-white and non-English-speaking background populations?
It’s never as simple as one new arrival “using up” an allocation of limited resources, whether jobs, housing, or seats on trains. In fact, new arrivals fill the gaps of an ageing workforce, and current migration policies are targeted to favour younger migrants and specific skills shortages.
Western Sydney, like many regions in Australia, has an ageing population. Residents aged 65-74 years increased from 6.2% in 2011 to 7.2% in 2016.
Large-scale infrastructure – whether the slated new airport or the Westmead hospital – requires young and often skilled workers.
Infrastructure problems are also problems of policy, planning and funding, rather than just population numbers. Problems in transport and health infrastructure in Western Sydney cannot be easily solved by reactive anti-immigration attitudes or policies.
Cuts to programs like the humanitarian program or skilled temporary work visas, where the intake numbers remain relatively small as a proportion of the overall population, will not solve those infrastructure problems.
Western Sydney is growing, and with growth comes growing pains. But equating the region’s rich cultural diversity with a population crisis is the wrong message to send.
You can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.
Sydney is frequently placed in the top ten of global “liveability” rankings. But despite the growing popularity of the buzzword liveability, questions remain about what it actually entails. What does a liveable city look like? How do we measure liveability? And, most importantly, liveable for whom?
The idea of liveability and liveability rankings has some usefulness. However, such rankings mask the disadvantaged, marginalised and excluded within cities, including Sydney.
In yet-to-be-published research, our analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 1991, 2001 and 2011 indicates there are clear “winners” and “losers” in Sydney. Despite the strong economic growth in the 1990s, there is still a clear divide between eastern and western Sydney.
The term liveability has proliferated in planning and public discussions, but few definitions are provided.
Liveability is usually captured by published indices. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of indices: those that focus on decision-making from the perspective of individual lifestyle preferences, the firm, and policymakers.
The best-known liveability indices are developed commercially. These include the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index, the Mercer Quality of Life Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Cities of Opportunity Quality of Life, and the Global Liveable Cities Index.
More recently, Sydney suburbs have been ranked according to various liveability indices (such as Domain Liveable Sydney 2016 and the Urban Living Index). However, overall these liveability indices tend to simplify or disregard crucial factors.
These indices tell a particular and incomplete story about the city. When viewed through the lens of spatial geography, it is clear that Sydney’s ranking as a liveable city requires greater recognition of the ways in which some Sydneysiders experience inequality and disadvantage.
We compared ABS data from 1991 or 2001 to the data from 2011, focusing on four issues: income, unemployment, travel to work, and housing tenure.
Our analysis of employment found that the proportion of people employed in Greater Sydney slightly increased (94% in 2001 compared with 94.3% in 2011) and the unemployed decreased (6% in 2001 compared with 5.7% in 2011). People in full-time employment decreased while the number of people working part-time increased, bringing it almost on par with the Australian figure.
However, the data does not reveal the disparities in people’s incomes according to where they live. When we viewed the data spatially, it was evident that people who live in the central city, inner east, inner west and the north shore of Sydney have higher weekly incomes than those living in the western parts of Sydney.
Income levels in Sydney
Our analysis also found spatial disparities in the way people commute to work. Driving remained the main form of travel (49.2% in 1991 compared to 53.8% in 2011), demonstrating continued car dependence in Sydney.
The disparity between east and west was evident in people’s opinions and preferences about travel. People in eastern Sydney felt more able to live close to where they work (72% compared with 62% in western Sydney).
People in western Sydney were less likely to feel they had the transport they needed (86% compared with 91% in eastern Sydney). But, interestingly, they also felt that transport was less important than eastern Sydney residents.
Finally, our analysis of housing tenure over the 20 years to 2011 found the level of outright home ownership fell by almost 10%. The proportion of people with mortgages increased (26.6% in 1991 compared with 33.2% in 2011), as did the number of people renting (28% in 1991 compared to 30.4% in 2011).
Housing tenure in Sydney
To sum up, the winners: live in the city, inner east, inner west and parts of northern suburbs, have relatively easy access to well-paid work, and own their homes.
The losers: live further from the concentrations of economic activity (jobs), have higher job insecurity, longer travel-to-work times, poorer transport choices and connections, lower incomes, more rental stress, less time with families, and poorer reported wellbeing.
Our analysis aligns with other recent research – see, for example, findings by the Grattan Institute, the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Australian Housing Urban Research Institute.
How then do the various liveability indices account for spatial inequality and disadvantage? In 2012, the Economist Intelligence Unit added a category based on “spatial adjustments”. The Spatial Adjusted Liveability Index now makes up 25% of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability score.
Various programs and policies have also been designed to tackle liveability. These are helpful initiatives, but a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach is needed. Approaches to liveability need to be integrated (both place-based and people-based).
First, to be effective, institutions need to decrease fragmented responses.
Second, greater social inclusion is vital. This includes participatory approaches to planning and equitable access to jobs, services and amenity.
Third, cities need co-operative governance whereby citizens can affect decision-making through legitimate involvement.
A greater focus on these recommendations might bring Sydney a little closer to being a liveable city for all.
Roberta Ryan, Professor and Director, UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance and UTS Centre for Local Government, University of Technology Sydney and Yvette Selim, Senior Researcher and Lecturer, UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney