Feel like the city is more crowded? You haven't heard the half of it

Australia's population is closing in on 24.7 million following its biggest quarterly jump in nine years, but the counters presenting that impressive figure have a hefty blind spot.

In fact, it's really only half the story.

The Bureau of Statistics reports population growth at a three-year high of 1.6 per cent per year, but that headline measurement only registers permanent residents, which means a huge number of the people living in Australian major cities are left out during the national headcount.

UBS' "people growth" figure, on the other hand, adds net short-term arrivals for education and employment to population growth. On that measure, Australia's "people growth" is striding ahead at an annual rate of 3.5 per cent - a record high.

Simply put, "population" is what most economists and politicians talk about, but "people" is what residents weave through when sitting in traffic or a crowded bus on the way to work.

The bigger of the two numbers represents a more complete picture of the pressure on major city infrastructure, and should be brought to the centre of the conversation around Australia's growth.

Open homes:

UBS economists are particularly interested in short-term arrivals for employment and education because they're the groups most likely to use their full 12-month visa allowance, and possibly return to Australia with an extension or different type of visa.

The analysts are not talking about tourists. Workers and students are the people who seek longer-term accommodation, rather than hotels, and will be commuting, rather than touring.

So, why is the people growth figure hitting record highs? We can take a hint from a brand new global study into expat behaviours from HSBC, but the simple answer is ... Australia is fantastic place to live.

This year's HSBC Expat Explorer report ranks Australia as 7th favourite place in the world for expats, up from 11th last year, and while this report is in no way connected with the UBS figures, HSBC defines expat as "an adult over the age of 18 years old who is currently living away from their country of origin/home country". The students and workers UBS is using in its people growth figure fit the bill, and are worth listening to.

Along with Australia's strong overall rating, three points stand out to Aussie readers from the report.

1. As a place to raise children, Australia ranked 3rd overall ??? out of 159 countries.

2. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents said their family's quality of life is higher in Australia.

3. Sixty per cent say their earnings potential is stronger in Australia than in their home country.

Those don't sound like the comments of people with short-term plans in Australia. Could we then infer that those who visit Australia for a while fall in love with it, and start to see their future being here?

Open homes:

"I think that's a very valid hypothesis," Graham Heunis, head of HSBC retail banking and wealth management told Domain.

"If you look at the main reasons [why Australia ranks highly], they are longevity reasons - quality of life, climate etc. - things that don't change. And what was particularly interesting to me was that 31 per cent of expats have found love with a long-term partner here in Australia."

The survey covers more than 27,500 expats and pegs Singapore as the No.1 country, mostly for perceived short-term financial gain.

UBS analysts, meanwhile, note Australian people growth is strengthening despite a recently rising Australian dollar, which would usually make Australia a less attractive destination, and sees upside for housing demand.

"This continued people boom is likely to offer more support than expected for housing and vacancy rates, particularly in Melbourne which is experiencing record high population growth," economists George Tharenou and Carlos Cacho wrote in their report.

Of course difficulties can arise when cities can't keep up with the growth, according to demographer Mark McCrindle, who notes Melbourne is seeing the equivalent of an entire Ballarat added to it each year through overseas and interstate migration.

"You can become a victim of your own success," Mr McCrindle told Domain.

"And when the public transport does start to groan, when the infrastructure doesn't keep up with that massive growth ??? you start to get the pain points. You start to get people feeling a bit of a loss of lifestyle and a decline in liveability."

"A great strength can become a weakness over time."

Australia's soaring headcount should be seen as a huge opportunity for the economy to expand, but demand for housing and public infrastructure should be viewed under the scope of "people growth", not "population growth".

The story Feel like the city is more crowded? You haven't heard the half of it first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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