An interesting thing happened on television last night. Dick Smith railed against a bigger population — and most of Sydney tuned in.

His self-funded ABC doco drew a respectable national audience of close to a million people, Glenn Dyer reports in Crikey. It was the 17th most-watched show of the night in Melbourne and Brisbane; 14th in Adelaide and Perth. In Sydney? Number one with a bullet — 378,000 people crowded in front of the box to watch his Little Australia crusade.

Population growth as an election issue bites hardest in Sydney. When Essential Research asked the question of voters in July, most respondents said our current growth rate was too high, and most of those — by some distance — lived in NSW.

Sprawling Sydneysiders — idling in traffic, fuming over public transport — are choked up and hijacking this election campaign with their justified, if misdirected, anger. They argue, quite reasonably, the country’s largest city can’t cope with more residents. Immigration must be cut; boat people must be stopped.

The city can’t cope with more residents, but it’s not the fault of Julia or Tony. Sydney is choking due to the miserable failure of successive state governments to adequately plan for and roll out the necessary people-moving infrastructure. Labor’s rail line from Epping to Parramatta — the single biggest election promise in this campaign — acknowledges the real population problem but barely begins to fix it.

Much smaller cities around the world cope with much bigger populace and still manage to be much more livable. This isn’t about quantity of people, it’s about quality of life. Government has failed to deliver it.

Dick is right on one thing — we need a plan. Nobody in state or federal politics has one, so we’re having an unedifying immigration debate by default.

Thanks a lot, Sydney.