RDA’s region incorporates the Far North Statistical Division covering more than 15 per cent of Queensland with a population of 278,000 people. Of this population, over 54 per cent live in the Cairns urban area, 35 per cent in the Douglas/Cassowary Coast and Tablelands area and only 11 per cent in the Gulf, Cape and Torres area. The population is expected to grow to over 328,000 by the year 2031.
At the time of the 2006 Census, there were 33,118 persons who stated they were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, or 14.3 per cent of the total population, whilst 15.2 per cent of persons stated they were born overseas.
The region covers a total area of 273,157.4 square kilometres or 15.8 per cent of Queensland’s total area.
The region encompasses rich biodiversity and habitats – rainforest, mangrove, savannah, reef and ranges.
There are significant economic and transportation linkages across the region. Cairns is the largest centre in the Far Northern Region with a population of 170,000 people.
Key Regional Statistics
Population Cairns and Far North Queensland – 278,000 (5.8 per cent of Queensland)
Labour Force: 148,000
Unemployment: 8.5 per cent^
Employment by industry grouping
Resources 6.9% (Mining and agriculture)
Industry 15.5% (Construction and manufacturing)
Hospitality 10.9% (Food, Accommodation & Recreation)
Area: 273,161 km2 (15.8% of Queensland)
GRP: $9.1 billion (4.9% of Queensland)
GRP per capita: $36,971 (Queensland $45,495)
1,138 medium size companies
165 large size companies
^ Annual average as at June 2012
The FNQ&TS region consists of 19 local government shires and regions which include Aurukun, Cairns, Cassowary Coast, Cook, Croydon, Etheridge, Hope Vale, Kowanyama, Lockhart River, Mapoon, Napranum, Northern Peninsula Area, Pormpuraaw, Tablelands, Torres, Torres Strait Island, Weipa Town, Wujal Wujal and Yarrabah. The region covers a total area of 273,157.4 square kilometres or 15.8 per cent of Queensland’s total area.
The region hosts two of Australia’s natural World Heritage areas, the northern half of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest. Much of the rest of the region has international biodiversity and cultural values (e.g. Cape York Peninsula). The Torres Strait and shallow waters of the Gulf are rich in marine life and support important fisheries.
The whole area experiences a summer monsoon (wet season) November to April (strongest and most regular in the north), followed by a lower rainfall winter and early summer dry season, May to October. We are also one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in Australia, most significantly due the potential increased frequency of cyclones and sea level rise.
2011 Estimated Residential Population figures show that the region is home to 271,404 persons. Of this population, over 54% live in the Cairns urban area, 35% in the Douglas/Cassowary Coast and Tablelands area and only 11% in the Gulf, Cape and Torres area.
There are more than 60 Traditional Owner groups across the FNQ&TS region. There are significant populations in small very remote locations, such as the Outer Islands of Torres Strait, the Cape and small townships in the Gulf. There is a large urban Indigenous population centred around Cairns and Tablelands, and people move between Cairns, Torres Strait, Cape and Gulf communities regularly. The region has one of the highest indigenous populations in Australia at about 14%, or 57,929 people.
The diverse Indigenous history of the Far North Queensland region means that the area has been home to several dozen Indigenous languages, some of which are still spoken. The Torres Strait region has four language dialects, the Cape York region and the Gulf region traditionally have more than twenty languages, and the Wet Tropics has six language groups. Non-english language use is relatively high in some remote communities and occassionally Indigenous languages are spoken in Cairns. The multilingual atmosphere of Cairns is increased by tourism and the proximity to other nations, which leads to high levels of non-English language speaking, signage, and translation services
Cairns has an overall young median age, which is balanced by the typically higher age profiles of the Tablelands and Cassowary Coast rural areas. The region also has a marked deficiency in the 18 to 24 age group, and a comparatively low proportion of population aged over 65 at 12 per cent of total population.
Ethnicity and diversity
The region has a relatively high proportion of population born overseas. In addition, the region has a significant proportion of people born in Australia, but with non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly Italy, but also from China, India, and Indonesia. More recent migration has predominantly been from southern Australia. International tourists and strong links with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands adds to the mix.
This region has a broad mix of cultural heritage. This includes a strong history of rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, both tangible and intangible, a tropical pioneering history including a significant maritime element and early elements of migration from Asia, China, Japan, Italy and Indonesia (Malays).
Between two World Heritage areas and large wilderness areas in Cape York, the region has a significant proportion of its land and marine surface under national park, traditionally owned land or other conservation zoning. Wild rivers legislation in the Cape and proposals for a further Coral Sea conservation zone are the subject of ongoing community debate.
The region accounts for over 26 per cent of Australia’s water run-off. Apart from the Barron River catchment, most catchments have very low usage for agricultural and human consumption.
The region has a large identified capacity for non-fossil fuel energy production including hydro-electricity, wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels (ethanol and pongamia based bio diesels). There are no coal fired power stations in the region, and electricity in remote areas is generated by diesel. Fishing and aviation industries are currently highly fossil fuel dependent.
The foundations for the regional economy are tourism, primary industries and mining.
The Cairns International Airport brings a large influx of visitors from within Queensland and interstate, as well as international. These international visitors are largely from UK/Europe, North America, Japan, China and other Asian countries. The region is the leading primary industry (agricultural, livestock, fishing and forestry) production area in northern Australia. The sector accounts for much of the activity outside of Cairns in the sub-regional economies of the Cassowary Coast, Tablelands and the Einasleigh Uplands. Mining in the region has fluctuated dramatically over the years. However, Cairns’ position as a leading hub in the North has led it to support an increasing fly in/fly out workforce.
The region’s population growth and size has generated a high level of construction activity. Traditionally construction has been mainly private, however after the Global Financial Crisis government construction has helped hold up approval levels. The region is well provided with commercial services commensurate with its population as are government services including defence, immigration, customs, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and Federal Police services. Growth of the region’s population has outstripped the provision of education and health services, especially ast higher levels.
Marine and aviation
Cairns has a large maritime servicing and shipbuilding sector that is fostered by a large fleet of small vessels (fishing and tourism, trading in the region and the Australian Navy’s operational base). Marine services markets extend into the Pacific due to a lack of land transport infrastructure in the Cape and Cairns’ strategic position in relation to Papua Indonesia. However, there are currently no direct international shipping services to PNG or Asia.
More recently, a large regional and general aviation sector has led to the development of an aviation servicing cluster including aircraft maintenance and training at Cairns airport, again with markets stretching up into PNG and the Pacific.
Key regional infrastructure
Cairns airport is recognised as the leading hub airport in the north and Australia’s major north-eastern gateway. The region also has five significant bulk sea ports – Mourilyan and Cairns for sugar, and Cape Flattery, Weipa and Karumba for minerals, with over 40 seaports and significant landings in the area.
While the roads in the region’s south east corner are extensive and sealed, there are major constraints to road freight movements between the major coastal regional centres and ports and the hinterland. Cape York is serviced only by an unsealed road that can remain closed during the wet season for 4 to 6 months of the year, forcing all transport of freight and passengers to go by ship or air.
Workforce and employment
The region has the largest workforce in the north. The Cairns, Cassowary Coast and Tablelands area offers lifestyle advantages and has little trouble attracting and holding population. High unemployment rates and high job creation rates have been typical in recent years, largely influenced by external circumstances.
The remoteness of the region’s Indigenous communities ensures focus of employment programs and associated opportunities, such as the revised Remote Jobs and Communities Program. The region’s unemployment rate peaked in 2009/10 at over 13 percent, but by mid-2012 has returned do the 8-9 percent range.
The FNQ&TS region has the largest workforce in tropical Australia (i.e. above the Tropic of Capricorn), especially non-government workforce. The FNQ&TS region has a very strong private enterprise orientation and leads tropical Australia in the number of businesses. The profile and numbers of businesses in the north confirms the region’s leadership in business activity.