I am originally from Singapore. When I migrated to Melbourne, I noticed many similiarities between the two cities. I am surprised no one has yet to make a comparison. I will now attempt to draw the parallels between Melbourne and Singapore.

History and Population Growth

Both cities were established in the early 18th century. Singapore was founded by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles on 29 January 1819 while Melbourne was established by John Batman on 30 August 1835. The current population in Melbourne and Singapore is 4 million and 5 million respectively. The population in Melbourne is projected to increase to 5.27 million by 2026 and 7.97 million by 2056 while the population in Singapore is projected to reach 6.5 million in the next 40-50 years.

Both Melbourne and Singapore are now experiencing booms in population and real estate, with strong migrations from Asia, particularly China and India. There have been talks of a looming property bubble both in Melbourne and Singapore. Like Melbourne, the influx of large number of foreigners is placing immense strain on the existing infrastructure. Singapore is experiencing an unprecedented public transport congestion, especially on trains, and the government is “doing everything possible to improve matters“, such as adding 22 new trains to the rail system, upgrading of the signalling system and construction of new lines.

Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong said “Most of the time, the MRT system is working fine. The peak hours are when the crowding takes place.” Urging Singaporeans to “be patient”, he noted that trains in all cities “will always be packed during peak hours“. “We can’t guarantee that every passenger can get onto the first train everytime, or even that he can get onto the second train everytime, but there will be trains every couple of minutes.” he said.

Melburnians, does this sound familiar?

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Real Estate

Geographically, the sea lies to the south of both Melbourne and Singapore. Like Melbourne, the eastern part of Singapore is more highly sought after as places of residence compared to the northern and western parts, which are more industrialized. However in recent years, the western part of Singapore especially those near the CBD is catching up in house price, mirroring the gentrification process in Melbourne’s inner west. Bukit Timah is the “Toorak” of Singapore, with properties on very large land lots and where only the very wealthy can afford to live in. Katong is the “Brighton” of Singapore, which is closer to the beach. I would think Geylang is the “Richmond” of Singapore, on the eastern fringe of downtown Singapore, with very good public transport, several train stations, many restaurants and a rowdy, colourful and bustling character. Geylang is renowned for its red light district while the fame goes to St Kilda in Melbourne.

Bridge Street in Richmond Sims Avenue in Geylang
Saturday on Bridge Road Traffic
Photo by Andrew Barron

Photo by neajjean


Shophouses in Richmond Shophouses in Geylang
Allans Buildings - Richmond
Photo by Dean-Melbourne
Photo by allamandalah

Road Infrastructure

The Westgate Bridge in Melbourne and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge in Singapore share many similiarities. Being the longest bridge in each city, each links the eastern and western parts of the city. Both fly over water – Westgate Bridge over Yarra River and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge over Marina Bay. Both are connected to expressways at each end. Both suffer traffic congestion problems. The Westgate Bridge passes over Westgate Park, a large environmental and recreational reserve created during the bridge’s construction. The Benjamin Sheares Bridge passes over Marina South area which is a coastal park built from reclaimed land with recreational facilities. Westgate Bridge costs A$202 million to build while Benjamin Sheares Bridge costs S$177 million. Westgate Bridge was opened on 15 Nov 1978 after 10 years of construction while Benjamin Sheares Bridge was opened on 26 Sep 1981 after 4 years of construction.

Westgate Bridge over Yarra River Benjamin Sheares Bridge
Melbourne, Australia - 2007 Benjamin Sheares Bridge, Singapore
Photo by Chris&Steve Photo by TheMouseintheHouse

Singapore has an Outer Ring Road System, which is a semi-expressway that forms a ‘ring’ along the towns outside the city. When completed, it provides an alternative route for motorists to travel between the east and west of Singapore without going through the city, thereby helping to reduce traffic volume on city-bound roads. The Victorian State Government is thinking of achieving exactly the same result by eventually linking the Western and Northern Ring Road to EastLink (Eastern Ring Road). When completed, this Metropolitan Ring Road will provide a circumferential route around Melbourne, from Altona to Frankston. An Outer Metropolitan Ring Road, that links the Princes Freeway west of Werribee to the Hume Freeway at Kalkallo, creating a transport corridor through Werribee, Melton, Tullamarine, Craigieburn, Mickleham, Bundoora and Donnybrook, is being proposed. Construction is not expected to start until 2020.


The Wikipedia entry on Melbourne says that “Melbourne has a highly diversified economy with particular strengths in finance, manufacturing, education and research, IT, logistics and transportation, and conventions and tourism“. You can replace the word “Melbourne” with “Singapore” without altering the factual accuracy of this statement.

Financial Centre

Singapore was ranked 4th, Sydney 10th and Melbourne 23rd in the Global Financial Centres Index. Singapore is headquarters to many multi-national corporations while Melbourne is headquarters to five of Australia’s six largest corporations (BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Telstra, NAB and ANZ). Melbourne is Australia’s leading centre for superannuation funds, with 40% of the total and 65% of industry super-funds, including the $40 billion-dollar Federal Government Future Fund. Singapore is the world’s fourth largest foreign exchange trading centre after London, New York and Tokyo. Australia has the big 4 banks – CBA (Commonwealth Bank), NAB (National Australia Bank), Westpac and ANZ (Australia New Zealand Bank) while Singapore also used to have the big 4 banks – DBS (Development Bank of Singapore), UOB (United Overseas Bank), OCBC (Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation) and OUB (Overseas Union Bank) but this is now reduced to 3, when OUB merged into UOB in 2002.

Port and Logistics

Singapore hosts the busiest port in the world while Melbourne Port is the busiest in Australia., handling 39% of its container trade. Both ports are located near the urban centre, on the western side. The World Bank ranks Singapore as the world’s top logistics hub while Melbourne’s freight and logistics sector is Victoria’s largest employer.


Manufacturing, comprising the electronics, oil-refining, chemical, mechanical engineering and biomedical sciences industries, constituted 26% of Singapore’s GDP in 2005. In 2006, Singapore produced about 10% of the global foundry wafers (used in semiconductors). Melbourne is the centre of Australia’s automotive industry, which includes Toyota, Ford and Holden manufacturing plants and their Australian headquarters. The Toyota Plant at Altona will start to build the next generation, greener Toyota Camry Hybrid in 2010 after securing a $35 million subsidy from the Federal Government. Singapore has the world’s third largest oil-refining industry located in the western region while oil refineries in Victoria are also west of Melbourne CBD, in Altona and Geelong.

ICT Industry

Both Singapore and Melbourne place great emphasis on science and technology. Melbourne ICT industry employs over 60,000 people (one third of Australia’s ICT workforce), has a turnover of $19.8 billion and export revenues of $615 million. Singapore is currently ranked second after Sweden in the Global IT Report, compiled by the WEF (World Economic Forum). Australia is implementing the NBN (National Broadband Network) while Singapore is rolling out the NGNBN (Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network). Both use fibre optics and can deliver broadband speeds of up to 1 Gbps. NGNBN is on track to achieve nationwide coverage of 95 per cent by mid-2012.

The Singapore Government has envisaged that the NGNBN will catalyse the development of new innovative services, including services in healthcare, education, trade and logistics. PM Julia Gillard said that the NBN will play an essential role in the next era of health reform, including telemedicine to rural communities.


Both Singapore and Victoria have targeted Biotechnology and Medical Sciences as a key growth area. Singapore is investing huge amount of money in Biotechnology to build the infrastructure, fund research, recruit top scientists to Singapore and attract leading pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Merck to set up plants in Singapore. Pharmaceuticals now make up more than 16% of the country’s manufacturing output. The 2007 Victorian Biotechnology Strategic Development Plan aims to achieve the vision of making Victoria recognized as one of the world’s top five biotechnology locations. From 2004 to 2007, Victorian biotechnology companies had secured more than $4 billion in investments, spent over $500 million on research and development and attracted more than 40 percent of biotechnology funds invested across Australia.

Tourism and Convention City

Tourism is a major industry both in Melbourne and Singapore. In 2004, Melbourne receives about 7.6 million domestic visitors and 1.88 million international visitors. In comparison, Singapore achieved 10.3 million visitor arrivals in 2007 and its ambitious Tourism 2015 blueprint aims to increase visitors arrivals to 17 million by 2015 and raise tourism incomes to S$30 billion.

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) has ranked Singapore as the top 5th global convention city in 2009. Melbourne has also been attracting an increasing share of domestic and international conference markets and this is augmented by the completion of a new Convention Centre in 2009.

Seafarers Bridge at the new
Melbourne Convention Centre
Fountain of Wealth at the
Suntec City Convention Centre
Seafarers Bridge - Melbourne Convention Centre Luck is Near at The Fountain of Wealth, Suntec City – Singapore
Photo by Dean-Melbourne Photo by William Cho

Melbourne has the Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex on the Southbank while Singapore has the Marine Bay Sands Integrated Resort fronting the Marina Bay.

Crown Casino Marina Bay Sands
The Spectacular Yarra River, Melbourne The Singapore River and the Cityscape at Marina Bay in Full Splendour at the Blue Hour...
Photo by Mark Owen
Photo by William Cho

Both cities have an observation wheel opened in 2008. The Singapore Flyer, located on reclaimed land in Marina Centre, is currently the tallest ferris wheel in the world. The Southern Star is located at the Waterfront City Precinct in Docklands, which is recycled from decrepit space previously used for docks, rail infrastructure and industry, during an urban renewal process that is still continuing. Both wheels suffered from breakdowns. While the Singapore Flyer is still operating, the Southern Star was shut down indefinitely in January 2009, one month after its opening due to serious structural defects, including cracks and buckling.

Southern Star Observation Wheel Singapore Flyer
this wheel's on fire #2 Singapore Flyer
Photo by Jes Photo by Choo Yut Sing


The education sector is a big revenue earner for Melbourne, pulling in 5.4 billion worth of earnings in 2008-2009, making it Victoria’s largest export sector. Singapore has also recognized the potential of the international students’ market. It aims to attract 150,000 international students by 2015, which would not only create 22,000 jobs but also boost the education sector’s GDP contribution from 1.9 to 5 %.

The Times Higher Education World Universities Rankings ranks the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) 36th and National University of Singapore (NUS) 34th in 2010. The QS World Universities Rankings ranks UniMelb 38th and NUS 31st in 2010.

Singapore has long been ranking schools and producing league tables based on schools’ academic performance. It had also introduced performance-based salary for teachers for quite a while. Now Australia is adopting similiar measures.


The Australia and Singapore governments have both undertaken a series of privatisations. Telstra and SingTel were previously the sole provider of telecommunication services in Australia and Singapore respectively. Privatisation of SingTel started in 1993 while that for Telstra began in 1997. Now, the Singapore Government owns a 54% stake in SingTel through Temasek Holdings while the Australia Government holds a 10.9% stake in Telstra through its Future Fund. Optus (wholly-owned subsidiary of SingTel) and StarHub are the second largest telecommunications company in Australia and Singapore respectively. It is ironic that SingTel is playing a dual role – as an established player in Singapore, doing whatever in defending its dominant position but at the same time, through its Australian subsidiary Optus, as a challenger keen to make inroads into Telstra’s territories.

Both countries have privatized other services such as power supply, bank, airline, ports, public transport and so on. There are now two large public transport operators in Singapore, SMRT Corporation and ComfortDelGro Corporation, which both run trains, buses and taxis. ComfortDelGro has also expanded its operations to China, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Vietnam and Malaysia. Metro Trains Melbourne, the consortium led by Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation, had replaced Connex in 2009, as the operator of the metropolitan train lines in Melbourne.

Global Financial Crisis

Both Australia and Singapore have emerged very strong from the GFC. Not only is Australia the only advanced economy to have escaped a technical recession, it is also recovering very well from a mild dowturn. As for Singapore, it has become the fastest growing economy in the world, with a growth rate of 17.9% for the first half of 2010.

Garden City

Singapore and Melbourne are both known as the Garden City. Singapore is well known for its good urban planning, with a lot of green spaces between buildings, besides roads and along pedestrian paths. Melbourne has an abundance of parks and gardens close to the CBD and in the inner suburbs.

Royal Parade in Melbourne Singapore Expressway
Autumn in Melbourne Tree lined streets Singapore
Photo by Andrew
Photo by Jason Shaeffer


Singapore and Melbourne are both facing problems of long term water supply. To secure its water supply, Singapore has turned to recycling of waste water and desalination. Its first desalination plant, one of the biggest in the world and worth S$200 million, was opened on 13 Sep 2005. It can produce 30 million gallons of water daily and meet 10% of the nation’s needs. A bid for a second desalination plant was launched in June 2010 and the Singapore government has identified five coastal sites for future plants, aiming to increase the capacity to one million cubic metres per day by 2060. It was suggested that Singapore could become the world’s water hub for water recycling and desalination technology, which it could then export to other parts of the world such as China.

To provide a permanent solution to its water shortage problems, Melbourne is now building a desalination plant at Wonthaggi, the largest in Australia, which when completed at the end of 2011, will be able to supply 150 billion litres of water a year to Melbourne, Geelong and other regions in Victoria.

End Notes

With so many things in common, it is inevitable that Melbourne and Singapore will compete on many fronts. However, the two cities can also learn from each other and collaborate in many areas. Recently, my cousin from Singapore was sent by his company, CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real estate companies, on a study trip to Melbourne and Sydney to learn about the shopping mall operations here.

Julia Gillard visited Singapore in 2008 and as the then Minister for Education, she would probably be keen to learn of the changes taking place in Singapore’s education system.

The following are quotes from Julia Gillard’s speech delivered during the Fraser Lecture in Canberra on 28 May 2008:

While other nations like Singapore were creating laboratories to determine the best methods of classroom instruction, the Howard Government was obsessed with flagpoles rather than implementing a serious reform agenda.”

Three of the highest performing school systems – those of South Korea, Finland and Singapore – select teachers from only the top 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 30 per cent of university entrants respectively.