Sydney isn't a city, it's a disaster

03:55, Feb 05 2013
This is what living in Sydney really feels like.

Ten years ago no Australian city was in the top 50 most expensive in the world. Now Sydney is ranked third and Melbourne joint fourth with Oslo. Only Tokyo and Osaka are more expensive.

The cities most New Zealanders would expect to see making a mockery of their wallets and purses - New York and London - don't get a look-in in the top 10.

Australian economists argue that Sydney and Melbourne's high ranking in the annual list produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit is a sign of the country's strength, not weakness.

"We didn't have the collapse and property prices that the rest of world saw, especially among the more advanced nations," says Savanth Sebastian, of the Commonwealth Bank.

"While goods may be more expensive here, we have seen pretty healthy wage increases over the last decade and if you look at wealth levels, they are getting back to those record highs we were seeing just before the [global financial crisis]."

But the fact that these two cities are cripplingly expensive to live in - so much for the Aussie dream of a fair go - doesn't bode well for Kiwi tourists or workers, and as a result Australia.


Australia is still the first port of call for Kiwis facing a tight job market and relatively low wages in New Zealand. The opportunities Australia offers are attractive but they come with a heavy price.

Yes, Aussie wages may be up but they evaporate the minute you enter a supermarket, fill your petrol tank or go out for dinner.

The price of unleaded petrol in Sydney is three times higher than it was 10 years ago. Table wine has nearly tripled in price, the price of bread has more than doubled, and cigarettes have soared to nearly four times as much.

Not so much cities but ten-handed pick-pockets rifling through your clothes, lifting everything you have and laughing in your face.

Add to that a property market that's more psychopath than dream-maker and you have all the makings of urban nightmare. Who can plan a life in a city when the cost of buying a first home is unrealistically high? And if you do manage to scrape together the cash for one, and you manage to outbid the hundreds of other buyers scrambling for property in Sydney and Melbourne, what you get for your cash isn't appealing at all: a modest home that comes with an hour and a half commute or a cramped box close to town.

I did two stints in Sydney: the first from 2001 to 2006, the second from 2010 to the end of last year. What first attracted me to Sydney was that it was world-class city that was affordable (it also boasted great weather, a huge bonus for a pasty Scotsman). I could afford to rent a decent sized apartment in a trendy inner-city suburb and live quite comfortably.

When I moved to London for work, my constant complaint was that it was too expensive - not like good old Sydney. How shocked I was when I came back to Australia for a second go. My dream city had become cold and prickly, too rich for the likes of me.

Australian economists may boast about the country's strong currency and dismiss the effect it has on potential visitors or workers. But for Sydney and Melbourne to suddenly shoot up the rankings of expensive cities within such a short space of time is worrying. Why, as a Kiwi, go looking for a job in Sydney or Melbourne when London's cheaper, has high wages and mainland Europe on the doorstep?