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Urban Policy and Research
ISSN: 0811-1146 (Print) 1476-7244 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cupr20
Relocating Disadvantage in Five Australian Cities:
Socio-spatial Polarisation under Neo-liberalism
Bill Randolph & Andrew Tice
To cite this article: Bill Randolph & Andrew Tice (2016): Relocating Disadvantage in Five
Australian Cities: Socio-spatial Polarisation under Neo-liberalism, Urban Policy and Research, DOI:
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08111146.2016.1221337
Published online: 01 Sep 2016.
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URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH, 2016
Relocating Disadvantage in Five Australian Cities: Socio-spatial
Polarisation under Neo-liberalism
Bill Randolpha and Andrew Ticeb
aFaculty of the Built Environment, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia;
bDemography and Economics, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Sydney, Australia
During the mid-1980s, the Australian political discourse shifted decisively
towards a neo-liberal political agenda that has remained the dominant policy
paradigm ever since. Arguably, a key outcome of this has been an increase
in social inequality. However, there has been little acknowledgement of this
process in Australian urban policy debates. Yet these social outcomes have
been accompanied by distinctive impacts on the socio-spatial structure of
the Australian city. Using Census data over a 25year period between 1986
and 2011, this paper analyses the trend towards a marked suburbanisation
of the most disadvantaged households in the ve major Australian cities. Its
conclusions have relevance for current metropolitan planning strategies and
their capacity to address what is emerging as Australia’s version of the now
more widely recognised “urban inversion” of the last quarter of a century.
1980 年代中期, 新自由主义政治议程决定了澳大利亚政治话语, 并自此一
直保持统治地 位。这一转向导致了社会不平等日益加剧。然而, 尽管这样
的后果明显影响了澳大利亚城 市的社会-空间结构, 澳大利亚城市政策争
论中却很少涉及这一过程。本文利用1986 年- 2011 年这25 年间的人口普
查数据, 分析澳大利亚五大城市中最低收入家庭的郊区化趋势。 文章的
结论有助于目前的都市规划策略, 及其应对澳大利亚近25 年来出现的“
What do the Pope, the President of the United States and the head of the IMF have in common? ey
have all recently spoken out against rising inequality which has now become a widely recognised global
trend over the last thirty years (OECD 2011, e Economist 2012). With Oxfam (2016) reporting that
the richest 62 people in the world had accumulated wealth equal to that of the poorest half of the world’s
population, and the top 1% being worth more than the rest of the world’s population combined, the
emergence of levels of inequality not seen since before the 1st World War has clearly started to penetrate
political discourse. Australia has a long history of egalitarianism, based on a popularly held belief in,
if not equality per se, a more diuse equality of opportunity based on a shared common experience
and aspiration. But even this may be breaking down. e Oxfam report showed Australia to be only
second to America in terms of the percentage increase in the share of national income received by
© 2016 Editorial Board, Urban Policy and Research
Received 8 September 2014
Accepted 1 June 2016
CONTACT Bill Randolph email@example.com
The authors are indebted to the comments of two anonymous reviewers whose valuable and thoughtful comments have hopefully
improved the paper. As always, all remaining errors of fact and judgement remain the responsibility of the authors.
2 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
the richest 1% of its citizens. e post-war egalitarian ethos that pervaded much of Australian public
and cultural life is in danger of becoming a folk memory.
Rising inequality therefore appears to be a fact of life in Australia (Commonwealth of Australia
2014, Australian Council of Social Services 2015). is paper deals with one facet of this process: its
association with a restructuring of the socio-economic space in Australia’s major cities—specically
the changing geography of more socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods. e paper does not set out
to explore the complex interplay of income and wealth in generating inequality, or to establish any
causal link between inequality and social disadvantage more generally (see McLachlan et al. 2013,
Dabla-Norris et al. 2015). Its objective is much simpler. While the links between changes in income
and wealth and the locational aspects of social disadvantage remain to be better understood, the
paper draws attention to the coincident relationship between documented increased income (and
by implication, wealth) inequality over the past several decades in Australia and distinctive shis in
the location of urban social disadvantage, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Before discussing this outcome, the paper commences with a short review of the context which
has generated the changes described here and its continued importance in scholarly conjecture about
the evolution of contemporary urban spaces. e paper then reviews the evidence for socio-spatial
restructuring of Australia’s ve major cities over the last three decades. It concludes with some reec-
tions on the broader signicance of these ndings and their implications for current debates on the
future metropolitan policy in Australia.
2. The Neo-liberal Ascendancy and its Impact on Australian Social Equity
is paper focuses on the outcomes of this realignment of the socio-spatial structure of Australian
cities that has accompanied the last 30years of restructuring of Australian society. e backdrop to
these changes lies in the neo-liberal political ascendancy which came to the fore during the 1980s.
Since that time, a range of socio-economic changes have worked their way through Australian society
which have been broadly accompanied by a widely recognised trend towards increased socio-economic
polarisation and income inequality (Pusey 2003, Berry 2013). Income polarisation—specically the
stretching out of the income continuum towards those on highest incomes—has meant that, as a
whole, Australia has become less equal in recent years (Leigh 2013).
e shi to “economic rationalism” as the basis for macro-economic and social policy settings has
had a long term impact on the structure of socio-economic opportunities for Australians. Paralleling
comparable changes in other countries such as the USA and New Zealand (Schwartz 2000, Peck
2012), these policy reforms were intended to turn the Australian economy into one based on the
newly emerging political consensus of open markets, trade liberalisation, labour market exibility,
lower company and personal taxation, tari reduction, privatisation and nancial deregulation, albeit
cushioned by an enhanced social welfare transfer safety net (Kelly 1992).
ese trends have not been as extreme as those in other jurisdictions, in large part due to a
social welfare support framework which, though much reduced in recent years, has remained to
support those on lowest incomes. Nevertheless, the impact of these polices was certainly uneven.
As Cox (2011) has pointed out, the emergence of neo-liberalism marked a turning point when tax
reduction became a “right” for the better o (along with a wide range of “middle class welfare” tax
and subsidy benets), while the receipt of welfare benets became an increasingly circumscribed
“privilege” for the low paid or non-working. Even by the early 1990s there was evidence of an
increase in income inequality, largely as wealthier households pulled away from those on lower
incomes (Connell 1991).
Quiggin (1999) argued that labour market policies increase inequality through two key “reforms”.
Firstly, they improved the income potential of managers and highly-skilled workers but reduced the
measures that protected incomes for the less skilled. Secondly, these policies also increased the level
of employment insecurity for all which, together with the rise of part-time employment and short
term or temporary contracts, contributed to the rise of employment uncertainty. ese measures have
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 3
penalised the lower skilled more than those on higher incomes. In a similar vein, Self (2000) stressed
the impact of neo-liberalism in driving up levels of social and economic inequality.
In a recent review of the evidence for income inequality in Australia, Whiteford (2013) explored
in detail the evidence for changing trends in inequality over the last four decades. e conclusion
was that, with some uctuations, income inequality had indeed increased over this period. Figure 1
summarises Whiteford’s ndings. e paradox of these trends is that they have occurred during a
period of substantial overall income growth and a signicant fall in the level of poverty in real terms
(Fletcher and Guttman 2013).
Aer comparing previous research and labour market trends across the OECD countries,
Whiteford (2013) argued that it was jobless families that had contributed most to the rise in ine-
quality of earnings. While the tax and transfer system has played a role in reducing the income ine-
quality eects of changing labour market trends in recent years, it has done little to stop those in the
higher income groups increasingly stretching their income growth, aided by taxation concessions.
As Whiteford concludes:
It can be calculated that the richest 20 per cent of the Australian population gained 44 per cent of all the income
growth between 1994–95 and 2009–10, while the poorest 20 per cent gained 6.4 per cent. (Whiteford 2013, p. 70)
is outcome is graphically illustrated in Figure 2 which shows the way the gross household income
distribution of Australian households has shied rmly towards the higher end (beyond $2000 per
week), while those in the middle have lost out (Greenville et al. 2013).
While not as extreme as the highly contested concept of the “underclass” (Wilson 1987, Gans 1995),
the recent identication in the UK of the so called “precariat” as a growing cohort of people “[in] pre-
carious jobs … and [with] a limited and precarious range of rights” (Standing 2012, p. 591), is a more
nuanced expression of this shi to an increasingly marginalised workforce (also Shildrick et al. 2012).
e net outcome of this 30year shi in the global political consensus has been a widespread and well
documented increase in income and wealth inequality across the major developed countries (OECD
2011, Keeley 2015). ere is now a veritable academic industry focusing on criticisms and causes of,
and potential cures for, the growing inequality that neo-liberalism has generated. In the US, Stiglitz
(2012) has skewered the concept with a formidable critique, as have Hutton (2011) and Lansley (2012)
in the UK and Piketty (2014) in France. Leigh (2013) oers an empirically robust explanation of the
rise of inequality in the Australian context, while Australian Council of Social Services (2015) has
more recently still presented clear evidence of the growing inequality in terms of income and wealth
in Australia. However, income inequality does not happen in a spatial vacuum. e trend towards
greater income inequality in recent decades has been accompanied by a marked spatial redistribution
Figure 1.Longer run trends in income inequality in Australia, 1981–1982 to 2009–2010. Source: Whiteford (2013) Figure 2.
4 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
of income and wealth, and associated patterns of social disadvantage, in our cities. It is to this issue
that the paper now turns.
3. Inequality and Urban Space
As Brenner and eodore (2002) have argued, the impacts of neo-liberalism are arguably most evident
in cities, as the location of most major economic and social activity. In the US, the literature on the
spatial impacts of neo-liberalism has grown signicantly in recent years as a result (e.g. Peck and Tickell
2002, Leitner et al. 2007). Until relatively recently, the inner city was viewed as the critical spatial focus
of social disadvantage (Wilson 1987) and the struggle between Keynesian interventionist policies and
their nemesis in the form of neo-liberal marketisation (Hackworth 2007). More recently, however, it
has become clear that the locus of urban disadvantage has shied signicantly. Indeed, it can be argued
that the ongoing clash of political cultures is now also expressed spatially in the changing nature of the
suburbs and the wider patterns of urban socio-spatial polarisation in income and wealth distribution.
is shi has changed the nature of the debates on urban socio-spatial inequality, especially in
the US, where the emergence of suburban poverty (Kneebone and Berube 2013, Semuels 2015) has
been associated with a strong local political response from the “First Suburb” coalition of nancially
challenged suburban local authorities in many American cities (Lucy and Phillips 2000, Puentes and
Oreld 2002). Similar trends have been identied in Canada (Hulchanski et al. 2010) and the UK
(Lupton 2011, Hunter 2014). While the specic geographies of these locations and the spatial termi-
nology may vary (terms include “inner suburban” or “middle ring suburb”) and are indeed contested
(see Leigh and Lee 2005), there seems to be strong indication that they are focused on those places
which developed in the period shortly before or in the three decades aer the Second World War (for
more developed discussion of this, see Randolph and Freestone 2012).
e academic debate on intra-urban social polarisation in Australia can be traced back to at least
the 1970s, when concerns surfaced over the then “crisis of the inner city” (Troy 1981, Stimson 1982,
O’Connor et al. 2001). By the 1990s, debates began to refocus on the suburbs, largely as a result of the
development of large scale public housing estates in these areas in the previous 30years. e evidence
was confusing at rst. e contested ndings of research into urban poverty in the early 1990s, sug-
gesting that Australian suburbs were in fact evolving into more variegated regions with examples of
moderately high incomes as well as more disadvantaged places, was perhaps the last time a scholarly
debate on this issue surfaced (Maher et al. 1992).
Figure 2.Distribution of gross household income, Australia, 1988–1989 and 2009–2010 (adjusted to 2011–2012 $$). Source: Greenville
et al. (2013) Figure 4.
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 5
In fact, the emerging patterns of suburban disadvantage have been evident for some time. In the
Australian geographical literature Badcock (1997) asserted that the period since the 1980s has seen
an eective relocation of the epicentres of urban social disadvantage away from Sydney’s inner city
and into these middle suburban locations. Randolph (2004) amplied this observation, noting the
emergence of a distinct band of social disadvantage in what had become the middle suburbia of
Australian cities. Baum et al.’s (2005) analysis of socio-economic divisions across Australia makes a
similar point. More recently, Pawson et al. (2015) have documented this shi more extensively and
identied both the housing and labour market drivers of this process.
It is also clear that this spatial income inequality has been compounded by dierential access to
wealth accumulation. e latter feature has been driven by a number of interrelated factors, but prin-
cipally though spatially dierential access to wealth generated by home ownership (Daley and Wood
2014, Johnstone 2014). is in turn has been reected in a highly distinctive locational shi in the
socio-spatial structure of Australian cites, as private housing markets, under the strong inuence of
regressive taxation and subsidy arrangements, have acted to realign the social composition of the city.
e net result has been a reversal of prevailing socio-spatial outcomes through a marked suburban-
isation of the locations of disadvantage away from the traditionally impoverished inner cities which
have been overwhelmingly gentried and/or redeveloped.
is paper does not pursue the reasons for the emerging trend towards the suburbanisation of
disadvantage in the ve main Australian cities. Here we simply focus on the evidence of disadvantage
suburbanising over the last three decades or so, the period that coincides with the dominance of
neo-liberal policies and the increasing reliance on the market to deliver housing opportunities for all
households. While the processes leading to these trends are complex and as yet not well documented in
contemporary Australian urban studies literature, the trends are nevertheless clear. It is to an empirical
examination of these trends that we now turn.
4. Approach and Data
In order to establish the detailed trends in the location of disadvantage, we have used the Australian
Bureau of Statistics Censuses for 1986 and 2011 to analyse the relative movement of concentrations of
disadvantage using the Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) in Sydney. In particular, we use the
Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage, one of the indicators in the SEIFA suite (ABS 2013).
e year 1986 represents the eective middle of the decade when the transition to neo-liberal policy
took hold in Australia, as noted above.
As observed in the introduction, aspects of low income and disadvantage are not conceptually
mutually exclusive. However, there are limited data available at the detailed local level from which
to analyse the changes in specic income distributions. Particular problems were encountered by
the researchers when trying to access Collector District (CD) Census information for the entirety
of Australia for the 1986 period. For this reason, the ABS’s widely used SEIFA index was utilised.
e SEIFA index combines Census variables that, conceptually, build a prole of a disadvantaged
community. e Index is created using a Principle Components Analysis using 16 census variables
which together provide information on aspects of disadvantage. Signicantly, of the sixteen variables,
low income has the greatest variable loading (i.e. has the most signicant inuence on the results)
with other associated variables (such as “joblessness” and lower cost housing) also ranking highly.
us, whilst the analysis presented here is not reporting specically on income distributions across
the dierent cities, the implicit outcomes and formative drivers of income distribution are eectively
captured through the use of the SEIFA Index.
is analysis adapts and extends the approach used by Randolph and Holloway (2005) and Randolph
and Tice (2014), but in this case extending the analysis to the ve major Australian cities over the
1986–2011 period. e 1986 analysis is based on the CD geography while the analysis for 2011 uses
the comparable Statistical Area 1 (SA1) geography. e ABS changed its system of census geographies
in 2011 with a new spatial entity, the Statistical Area, replacing the previous area divisions. In broad
6 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
term the CD and SA1 represent comparable spatial scales, with around 250 households per area in
both cases. For ease of reference, in the following we will refer to these dierent geographies simply as
census “tracts” in both years. While the exact boundaries of small area census tracts will have changed
between census years, due to local population changes (largely though new or re-development) as well
as the move to SA1 geographies, previous analysis of 2001 and 2006 Census CD data have shown the
approach to be robust at the aggregate scale appropriate to the present analysis (Randolph and Tice
2014). In addition, to facilitate temporal comparability, the analysis focuses on the relevant denition
of “urban” tracts, as dened by the ABS in both years.
e rst step of the analysis was to identify those tracts lying at or beyond one standard deviation
below the mean Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage score in each year. ese were taken
to represent the most highly disadvantaged tracts in the city and together accounted for approximately
15% of all tracts in each year. e following analysis focuses on these highly disadvantaged tracts. e
urban area of each city was then segmented into concentric 10km bands radiating out from the city
centre (traditionally dened as the location of the city’s central Post Oce) for 50km. is 50km
denition has been applied equally to each city and in each time period in order to (as best as possible)
render each city, its suburban structure and outlying communities comparable.
e analysis rst considers the changing numbers and proportion of each city’s populations living in
these highly disadvantaged locations. e analysis then uses correlation analysis to assess the changing
relationship over time between the location of the highly disadvantaged tracts and distance from the
various city centres. Location quotients are then used to assess the importance of absolute population
changes in these tracts in each distance band. Finally, an analysis of the distribution of highly disad-
vantaged tracts in 1km bands from the centre of each city graphically illustrates the relative spatial
change in the locus of disadvantage for each city. A set of maps accompanies this graphical analysis.
5. Suburban Disadvantage in Five Cities
5.1. The Changing Distribution of Disadvantaged Populations
In order to place the changing geography of disadvantage in context, we rst need to consider the
overall changes in population distribution across the ve cities as a contextual backdrop.
During the period 1986–2011 the population of the ve Australia major cities, Sydney, Melbourne,
Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, grew by 38%, from a little over 9–12.5m persons. In the same period
the population living in locations characterised as being highly disadvantaged in these cities increased
by a comparable amount, 39%, from 1 to 1.4m persons. However, as we shall see, the relative spatial
location of disadvantage compared to the city populations as a whole has changed signicantly.
Table 1 presents the distribution of population living in highly disadvantaged census tracts in each
of the 10km bands in 1986 and 2011 for each city. Most notable are the substantial levels of decline
within the 10km band in all ve cities, with an average loss of 67% in numbers, while the 20–29km
band witnessed both the largest proportional (+174%) as well as absolute (+281k) growth. Overall, the
proportional increase in populations in disadvantaged tracts increased by over 100% in each of the outer
three 10km bands, with the largest absolute and proportional increases in the 10–19 and 20–29km
bands. e high proportional rates of increase in the outer 40–49km band, which in many cases represent
outlying semi-rural fringe communities, are from relatively low population bases. ey nevertheless
indicate the role such locations have increasingly played in providing housing for disadvantage popu-
lations, adding a further dynamic to the overall processes shaping the suburbanisation of disadvantage.
Turning to the individual cities, while the overall pattern of outward displacement is common
to all, there are notable dierences. e relative suburban shi in the location of disadvantage in
Sydney was less pronounced than in the other cities, but the absolute numbers were more substantial
with growth focusing the 20–29km band. Melbourne recorded a doubling of the number of its pop-
ulation living in disadvantaged tracts, by far the most signicant increase of all ve cities, with the
focus of absolute growth in the 10–19km band. In Adelaide the legacy of previous South Australian
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 7
governments’ provision of social housing at signicantly higher levels acted to reduce the loss of dis-
advantaged populations from inner areas, but nevertheless, the suburban shi was still pronounced.
Perth was the only city to record an overall loss in the total population living in disadvantaged areas,
a reection of both the policy of redevelopment of public housing estates in these areas over the last
twenty years as well as a relatively strong economy based on the mining boom. Here, losses were
recorded up to 19km from the city centre, resulting in a 30% reduction in the number of people living
in disadvantaged areas by 2011. e proportional loss of disadvantaged populations from the inner
city was greatest in Brisbane, with a progressive increase in the proportional shi of this population
towards the urban fringe.
To elaborate on the changing relationships between the distribution of disadvantage and the overall
social structure of each of the ve cities, Table 2 provides the general correlations between the location
of disadvantaged tracts and distance from the city centre. To generate this each location has been
attributed with a linear (“as the crow ies”) distance. Data from the 2006 SEIFA, analysed in the same
manner as for 1986 and 2011, is provided to demonstrate that the processes driving the suburbanisa-
tion of disadvantage have been ongoing.
Table 1.Population change in disadvantaged locations in 10km bands for the ﬁve cities (1986 and 2011).
Source: 1986 and 2011 ABS Censuses.
Distance band Adelaide Brisbane Melbourne Perth Sydney Total
<10km 55,603 56,546 122,745 48,732 156,842 463,787
10–19km 33,936 27,228 35,519 50,561 98,424 260,113
20–29km 36,953 29,669 11,647 2773 79,648 161,571
30–39km 1661 13,004 6392 7525 43,703 72,285
40–49km 361 4315 1162 1033 54,321 61,761
128,514 130,762 177,465 110,624 432,938 1019,517
<10km 45,390 7023 36,822 10,500 27,518 151,768
10–19km 49,078 35,824 191,150 40,446 176,765 510,953
20–29km 65,392 74,600 93,833 12,258 190,225 442,581
30–39km 7716 36,695 45,711 8067 84,909 183,789
40–49km 3434 29,178 12,551 6318 74,871 128,763
171,010 183,320 380,067 77,589 554,288 1417,854
<10km −10,213 −49,523 −85,923 −38,232 −129,324 −312,019
10–19km 15,142 8596 155,631 −10,115 78,341 250,840
20–29km 28,439 44,931 82,186 9485 110,577 281,010
30–39km 6055 23,691 39,319 542 41,206 111,504
40–49km 3073 24,863 11,389 5285 20,550 67,002
42,496 52,558 202,602 -33,035 121,350 398,337
<10km −18 −88 −70 −78 −82 −67
10–19km 45 32 438 −20 80 96
20–29km 77 151 706 342 139 174
30–39km 365 182 615 7 94 154
40–49km 851 576 980 512 38 108
33 40 114 −30 28 39
Table 2.Distance correlations of disadvantaged tracts for the ﬁve cities (1986, 2006 and 2011).
aDenotes signiﬁcant at the 1% level.
Source: 1986, 2006 and 2011 ABS Censuses.
Adelaide Brisbane Melbourne Perth Sydney Total
1986 −0.282 −0.471a−0.664a−0.644a−0.538a−0.754a
2006 0.073 0.560a0.194 −0.222 0.733a0.495a
2011 0.188 0.651a0.289 −0.093 0.740a0.649a
8 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
In 1986 all the cities present a negative correlation between locations of disadvantage and distance
from the central business district. Aside from Adelaide, all of these correlations are signicant at the
1% level. By 2006, all but Perth present a positive relationship, although these relationships are not
statistically signicant in Adelaide and Melbourne. In the following ve years to 2011, Brisbane’s and
Sydney’s signicant positive relationships (>1%) are retained and strengthen while in Adelaide and
Melbourne the strength of the positive correlations continue but still not at signicant levels. In Perth,
the negative relationship is retained, although it has weakened further and is substantially lower than
Since the overall scale of the population in disadvantaged locations has changed over time it is
important to consider whether this itself has had any bearing on the distributional changes presented
previously. Table 3 presents the distribution of disadvantage expressed as Location Quotients. e
Location Quotient represents the ratio of the percentages of population in disadvantaged tracts for
each distance band (in each city) against the overall percentage of the population in disadvantaged
tracts. Ratios of one indicate near parity between these values, values of less than one a lesser presence
and greater than one a larger presence.
In 1986 the central areas of all the ve cities registered quotients greater than one, indicating an
over representation of disadvantaged populations. Similarly, all cities registered values below one
throughout all the suburbs 10–19km out from the inner city locations. Adelaide, and to a lesser
extent Brisbane, registered concentrations of disadvantage in the 20–29km band. Perth, and again
to a lesser extent Sydney, recorded concentrations in the 30–39km band, with Sydney registering a
further overrepresentation in the outlying semi-rural locations 40–49km from the centre. erefore,
even in 1986, only Melbourne presents a situation where disadvantaged locations were dispropor-
tionally concentrated within inner city locations in comparison to its suburban environs. e other
four cities, on this assessment, show a varied pattern of greater dispersion with evidence of suburban
concentrations of disadvantage present. Sydney, however, stands out with near comparable levels of
disadvantage occurring in far suburban locations and in the inner city.
By 2011, all cities registered a reversal of the level of disadvantaged locations within their inner
city locations, with Adelaide registering the lowest falls. Brisbane in particular stands out. Over the
intervening 25years the presence of disadvantaged locations in this city’s inner suburbs fell to almost
nil. In Melbourne there was a marked increase in suburbs immediately beyond the inner city. Whilst a
similar trend is present in Sydney, it isn’t as marked as the increase in the middle suburban 20–29km
band. Coupled with this, Sydney saw increases in the presence of disadvantaged locations in its more
far ung suburbs, although not to the level seen in the most distant suburbs (40–49km band) of
Brisbane. On this point, overall Brisbane (the only other state capital benetting from the recent
Table 3.Location Quotients for disadvantage populations for the ﬁve cities, 1986 and 2011.
Adelaide Brisbane Melbourne Perth Sydney Total
<10km 1.2 1.3 1.8 1.4 2.0 1.7
10–19km 0.8 0.6 0.3 0.9 0.9 0.7
20–29km 2.1 1.0 0.2 0.2 0.9 0.7
30–39km 0.4 1.0 0.2 1.9 1.4 0.8
40–49km 0.2 0.9 0.1 0.3 1.6 1.0
1.1 1.0 0.6 1.0 1.2 1.0
<10km 0.9 0.1 0.5 0.2 0.3 0.5
10–19km 1.0 0.5 1.3 0.5 1.3 1.1
20–29km 2.7 1.3 0.9 0.3 1.7 1.3
30–39km 0.9 1.3 0.8 0.6 1.5 1.1
40–49km 1.1 2.3 0.3 0.7 1.7 1.2
All 1.2 0.8 0.9 0.4 1.3 1.0
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 9
resource boom) saw a decrease in the presence of disadvantage across the city, but in comparison to
the decline seen in Perth, this is only marginal.
is latter nding highlights the inuence of regional economic activity in dening cohorts of
disadvantage. e ABS SEIFA measure is, aer all, designed to capture relative disadvantage at a
national scale. In doing so, this indirectly exposes the inuence of the “two-speed” economy existing in
Australia at the time of the 2011 Census. Perth and Brisbane are the respective capitals of the two states
containing the majority of the mining industry (and related businesses) supplying raw materials to the
then booming Chinese economy. Index variables, such as levels of unemployment and low income,
may have been eectively suppressed by these macro-economic relationships. is isn’t to say that
low income populations didn’t exist in Perth or Brisbane, but in relative terms the average incomes in
these two cities may have risen faster than the thresholds set during the initial creation of the Index.
5.2. The Spatial Impact of Suburbanised Disadvantage
Whilst the previous three analyses have demonstrated the broad suburban (and in places peri-urban)
shi in the distribution of disadvantage, we have yet to capture the level of spatial concentration of
these locations. To address this, the percentage distribution of all highly disadvantaged census tracts
in each kilometre band outwards from the centre of the ve cities was calculated. e overall picture
is summarised in Figure 3 which clearly shows that the concentrations of disadvantaged tracts in the
ve cities have collectively shied systematically away from inner city locations. e proportion of
total highly disadvantaged tracts up to 10km out from the central cities fell from 6 in 10 (57%) in
1986 to just 1 in 10 (11%) by 2011.
e pattern is repeated in each city, with the specic geographical shi reecting the size and
geography of each city. e data is represented graphically in Figures 4–8. e 1986 gures indicate a
much tighter concentration of disadvantaged tracts in a relatively narrow band up to 5km from the
centre in the case of Brisbane and 15km for Melbourne. ese were clearly “inner city” concentra-
tions. Elsewhere, disadvantage appeared to be more widely spread into the suburbs, with Adelaide
and Sydney having the more dispersed distributions. Nevertheless, disadvantage was clearly an inner
city phenomenon in each city.
e comparison to the 2011 position in all cities is quite stark, with a marked hollowing out of dis-
advantage within the 10km band evident for all ve cities. Adelaide (Figure 4) showed the least change
Figure 3.Proportion of disadvantaged CDs by distance from the city centre: all ﬁve cities, 1986 and 2011.
10 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
in the distribution of disadvantaged tracts, but with obvious decreases in the immediate inner city
locations and increases around the 15–20 and 25–27km mark. e distribution in Brisbane (Figure 5)
becomes much more evenly spaced with a broad shi into the suburbs peaking in the 20–29km band
and a further smaller extension beyond 40km. However, the loss in the 0–19km band is very marked,
and represented an almost total displacement of the disadvantaged population from inner Brisbane. In
Melbourne (Figure 6), the dramatic shi from the inner city into the 16–30km bands (where relatively
little existed in 1986) is quite evident. Perth (Figure 7), witnessed a shi in concentrations outwards to
suburbs in the 11–15km and beyond. Sydney (Figure 8) witnessed the greatest shi towards a more
even re-distribution of disadvantage, in part a reection of its larger size. Apart from the obvious
peak some 16km from the city centre, the middle suburban concentrations evidenced in 1986 have
been retained and intensied. At the same time the inner city band (to 10km out) has all but lost its
disadvantaged population in the process.
e analyses presented so far have demonstrated the case for the suburban dispersal of disadvantage
over the period; however they’ve not really got to grips with the actual geography of these processes.
Figures 9–13 have been generated using the location of those census small area tracts in 1986 and
2011 identied as containing highly disadvantaged populations. For comparison the scale is the same
in each instance. e radial rings indicate the distance from the central post oces and the solid grey
area indicates the current urban extent of each city. e shading of the points represents the number
of persons in each unit, ranging from light (fewer) to dark grey (greater). Where units are in close
proximity to each other these overlap to generate heavier black shading, eectively demonstrating
where concentrations of disadvantaged locations coexist. is approach has been developed to rep-
resent the suggestion that the spatial pattern of disadvantaged locations has, over the period, shied
from one of relative homogeneity to a more heterogeneous structure of suburban dispersal. In doing
so, the implication is that the manner in which entrenched disadvantaged has been conceptualised
previously (and in turn has developed its own logic in terms of policy development) may no longer
assist, at least in the Australian context, in engaging with the fundamental drivers shaping patterns of
disadvantage between communities (Pawson et al. 2015).
Figure 4.Distribution of disadvantaged locations 1986 and 2011 – Adelaide.
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 11
On the whole, Figures 9 through 13 serve to crystallise the specic geographies of suburbanisa-
tion seen in the earlier analyses. However they also add local nuance to these ndings. In Adelaide
(Figure 9) the distribution, whilst moving away from central locations over the period, retains core
concentrations around Woodville-Cheltenham (to the north-east of the inner city) and around North
Figure 5.Distribution of disadvantaged locations 1986 and 2011 – Brisbane.
Figure 6.Distribution of disadvantaged locations 1986 and 2011 – Melbourne.
12 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
Haven in the city’s northern coastal area. Of further note, however, is the expansion around Elizabeth
and Smitheld some 20–29km north of city centre.
In Brisbane (Figure 10) the extensive hollowing out of disadvantage previously concentrated in the
inner city and northwards along Fortitude Valley by the river is evident. Expansion of pre-existing
Figure 7.Distribution of disadvantaged locations 1986 and 2011 – Perth.
Figure 8.Distribution of disadvantaged locations 1986 and 2011 – Sydney.
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 13
Figure 9.Spatial distribution of disadvantage, (a) 1986 and (b) 2011 – Adelaide.
Figure 10.Spatial distribution of disadvantage, (a) 1986 and (b) 2011 – Brisbane.
14 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
smaller scale concentrations can be seen around the suburbs of Inala and Richlands south west of the
city centre (in the 10–19km band) and also further out in the neighbourhoods of Woodridge and
Logan Central (south-east of the city and towards the coast).
e extreme concentrations of disadvantage tied to central Melbourne in 1986 can be seen to
have dissipated to the north, north west and south east by 2011 (Figure 11). Of these, the most evi-
dent expansion has been around Brimbank (north-west of the city) and through the suburbs around
Dandenong (to the south-east), although the concentrations running to the north have also expanded
in both population size and spatial extent.
Perth (Figure 12) has seen expansion within a former small scale concentration centred on the
suburbs of Balga and Girrawheen (to the north) and in Midland and Guildford on the edge of the
city’s south-western extent. For Sydney (Figure 13), whilst the extreme concentrations running both
Figure 11.Spatial distribution of disadvantage, (a) 1986 and (b) 2011 – Melbourne.
Figure 12.Spatial distribution of disadvantage, (a) 1986 and (b) 2011 – Perth.
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 15
west and east of the inner city in 1986 have all but disappeared, one of the most notable eects by
2011 is the growth of already-existing core suburban locations of disadvantage. Expansion of these
middle suburban locations of Canterbury-Bankstown and further out west, focused on the already
established centres of Liverpool and Faireld, are quite evident.
In addition, there is also evidence of the emergence of smaller ex-urban clusters of disadvantaged
populations in the rural peripheries beyond the metro areas, especially in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Inequality has emerged as a key issue in contemporary global debates. Christine Lagarde, speaking at
an elite conference on “Inclusive Capitalism” held in London in 2014, argued that policy makers should
do more than just talk about closing the gap between rich and poor (Elliott 2014). She stressed that it
is time to actually do something about it, such as re-introducing more progressive income taxes and
property taxes, if nothing else than to avoid more widespread social unrest. With President Obama
speaking publicly on rising inequality as “the dening challenge of our time” (quoted in Lewis 2013),
exactly 50years aer President Johnson had earlier declared “a war poverty”, inequality is back with
But how are these wider processes of inequality and the patterns of socio-spatial change connected,
and why does this matter? Put simply, rising inequality does not take place in a geographic vacuum.
How cities are restructuring themselves socio-economically has signicant implications for those
aected. While at a societal level greater degrees of inequality in a country are associated with lower
levels of perceived happiness (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009, Oishi and Kesebir 2015), in relation to
the impact that inequality has had on the geography of socio-economic wellbeing Richard Florida
has recently concluded:
e forces limiting economic mobility are quintessentially geographic in nature. It is not just a split job market
and growing economic inequality that confront us, but the deepening geographic separation, segregation and
isolation of people and communities. Our emerging geography is increasingly one of concentrated advantage
juxtaposed with concentrated disadvantage. (Florida 2013, n.p.)
Again from the US, a recent study by Sharkey and Graham (2013) of 96 metropolitan areas showed that
neighbourhood economic segregation is linked closely to the opportunity for economic mobility. e
more highly segregated a city is, the lower the rate of upward economic mobility for those at the bottom
Figure 13.Spatial distribution of disadvantage, (a) 1986 and (b) 2011 – Sydney.
16 B. RANDOLPH AND A. TICE
of the economic scale. In other words, geography is a signicant factor in determining an individu-
al’s socio-economic capacity. e longer term social—and political—implications of this process for
Australia’s cities have been evident for some time. A quarter of a century ago, Stretton (1989) argued:
Inequality once entrenched perpetuates and increases itself; the relations of rich and poor suburbs grow more
like those of rich and poor countries. Once segregated, many of the inequalities are irreversible, even with the
best-intentioned aid programs. (Stretton 1989, p. 108)
e importance of place in determining life chances was recognised by former Australian Prime
Minister Gough Whitlam, over 40years ago:
Increasingly, a citizen’s real standard of living the health of himself and his family, his children’s opportunities
for education and self-improvement, his access to employment opportunities, his ability to enjoy the nation’s
resources for recreation and culture, his ability to participate in the decisions and actions of the community
are determined not by his income, not by the hours he works, but by where he lives. (quoted in Troy 1981, p. 17
In a more gender neutral sense, these observations hold even truer today. More recently, Berry (2013)
has also noted the negative impacts on urban eciency and equity that increased spatial polarisation
is generating. In the US, Kneebone and Holmes (2015) have argued that as the working poor have
shied into the suburbs they have become increasingly distanced from job opportunities.
is issue is all the more critical given research pointing to the growing concentration of high-level,
knowledge-intensive employment in central city nancial hubs and “innovation districts” which are
generating increased labour (and therefore urban) productivity (SGS Economics and Planning 2012,
Katz and Bradley 2013, Major Cities Unit 2013). ese newly revitalised central cities are leaving
suburban labour markets, and their increasingly disadvantaged populations, lagging behind. is
process has been termed “e Great Inversion” by Alan Ehrenhalt (2012). e centrifugal forces
that spread employment and housing away from city centres during the twentieth century have been
replaced by a centripetal force pulling economic activity and housing investment back into the centre.
Fishman (2011) has labelled this process the “h migration”, leading to the “re-urbanisation” of
the inner city. If so, this the twenty-rst century equivalent of the processes that contributed to the
inner city crises of the 1960s and 1970s, to which extensive urban renewal and regeneration policy
interventions were subsequently directed. In eect, the old crisis of the inner city is being substituted
by a new crisis of suburbia. e resulting shi in the locus of disadvantage, in part driven by the
arrival of new immigrant communities, has signicant implications for the delivery of urban services,
infrastructure and broader urban policy. ese implications will need to be fully understood if the
roll out of Australian metropolitan planning strategies aimed at reshaping our cities over the next
thirty years is to be successful.
But what are the chances of the process of rising urban inequality and the suburbanisation of
disadvantage becoming a signicant issue in contemporary policy debates on Australian cities? One
analysis of the contemporary economic forces reshaping our cities has concluded that the decline of
Australia’s suburbs is probably an inevitable consequence of the push for enhanced urban productivity
though the greater densication of jobs and housing in the central city (Kelly et al. 2014). In some
contrast, other commentators have argued that the needs of the suburbs need to be fully incorporated
into metropolitan policy-making (Committee for Sydney 2014). e announcement of a new Minister
for Cities under the Turnbull Coalition Government in September 2015 may presage a new phase
in the development of urban policy in Australia. While this welcome development might mark the
emergence of a bi-partisan approach to the Australian city at long last, it remains to be seen whether
the broader issues of city-wide social and economic polarisation and the suburbanisation of disad-
vantage will emerge as a key policy focus.
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
URBAN POLICY AND RESEARCH 17
Notes on contributor
Bill Randolph is Professor and Director of the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW, which he set up in 2005. His
interests span urban policy, metropolitan planning, housing aordability, urban renewal, high-density housing markets
and aordability and socio-spatial inequalities. Andrew Tice is a senior demographer at NSW Planning and Environment.
Interests include developing small area projections and socio-economic proles. is is supported by use of migration
and local mobility information to understand urban dynamics.
Bill Randolph http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6815-0935
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