These priorities are the result of extensive consultation with regional stakeholders, Advance Cairns members and the wider business community as well as engagement across three levels of Government and are now presented to the Australian and Queensland Governments for consideration as part of the 2024/25 Budget process. The identified priorities are strategically chosen to foster economic growth and build a more sustainable and robust future for the region.

Advocacy Priorities

Tropical North Queensland, the most populous region in Northern Australia and boasting one of the most diverse regional economies nationwide, continues to play an outsized role in contributing to the prosperity of Queensland.

No region in Australia is more internationally connected than Cairns and Tropical North Queensland; our geographic proximity and unique connections to the Asia Pacific and beyond are what truly makes Cairns Australia’s most global regional city1. It is this proximity which provides the opportunity to capitalise on our world class produce and exports as well as advances in aviation technology, further deepening and strengthening these international connections.

Tropical North Queensland’s unique advantages brings with it increasing population pressures requiring strategic investments into health, regional connectivity and food, water, and housing security that will sustain us to 2034 and beyond. The priorities outlined in this document, enable the region to enhance its liveability, sustain a growing population and foster economic growth while continuing to play host to millions of national and international tourists. By 2032, the region will require an additional 65,000 beds to provide for tourists alone. And tourists and residents alike depend on secure and safe water supply, reliable connectivity and access to health services.

The recent record-breaking flooding highlighted the vulnerability of the region from an infrastructure and transport perspective. How we invest and plan for our future is critical to ensure a prosperous, climate resilient future.

These priorities, supported by government, will be fundamental in delivering a prosperous future for the Tropical North Queensland region.

FNQ Health & Innovation Precinct

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service’s operations extend across Far North Queensland to some of the most remote communities in the state, with a population increasingly experiencing complex, chronic conditions above national averages. Cairns Hospital is the only major referral hospital in FNQ, also providing care to patients from Cape York and the Torres Strait. Expanded health services, clinical research, and education are critical to meet the health needs of FNQ’s growing population. Significantly, the region also supports a growing current visitor population of close to three million a year. Our region’s Hospital and Health Services, supported by James Cook University (JCU), the Northern Queensland Primary Healthcare Network, CQUniversity, TAFE Queensland and other tertiary institutions, are ensuring that Cairns grows its own medical, nursing and allied health workforce, to expand its clinical services and to translate research into practice to improve health outcomes for FNQ communities. Embedding research and expanding education will enable CHHHS to provide best-practice healthcare and support Cairns Hospital’s transition to tertiary hospital status within the next six years. With more than 2,000 health related student placements in 2023 alone, JCU is already a strategic partner with a growing investment into the Cairns region, such as the recent opening of a medical school allowing students to complete their full six-year training locally and the construction of JCU’s Cairns Tropical Enterprise Centre which will provide facilities for clinical teaching, training and research.

General Aviation

Cairns Airport’s thriving General Aviation Precinct is a major contributor to the regional economy, home to over 100 businesses including major maintenance, repair and overhaul organisations, education and training providers (Cairns Aviation Skills Centre and CQUniversity), freight consolidation services, and rescue and charter flights. Far North Queensland’s maintenance, repair and overhaul sector is vital to the region’s connectivity, servicing fixed wing and rotary aircraft that ply the Cape, Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea and the wider Asia-Pacific. These services ensure emergency and humanitarian aid as well as FIFO flights remain in air and provide critical connectivity to areas where it matters most. With Jet Aviation the only and largest independent heavy maintenance provider for large turboprop and regional jet aircraft in Australia, with Skytek the only independent maintenance, repair and overhaul operator for fixed and rotary wing on the East Coast of Australia and with an early-stage proposal for an advanced fibre and composites manufacturing and repair facility underway, the precinct has significant opportunity waiting to be unlocked.

Food & Water Security

Water and food security have become priority national policy issues on the back of record drought periods in Australia, as well as disruption to supply chains through COVID-19 and recent flooding events. The ability to meet increased demand for fresh Australian produce from Far North Queensland is at major risk due to the lack of a long-term water implementation strategy. Agricultural exports are vital to FNQ with the industry sector output currently valued at $2.7bn, constrained mainly by factors such as irrigation and access to market. Urban demand also continues to increase with Cairns’ population growth averaging 1.9% per annum over the past 10 years. This, combined with a long-running history of three million tourists visiting FNQ annually, means an effective and multi-faceted water supply strategy is required to ensure the growing needs of the region can be met.

Cairns Housing Crisis

Cairns desperately needs solutions to address the housing crisis currently being experienced, a problem made even worse in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Jasper. This crisis is amplified across the economy with housing being a critical enabler of growth and hampering the region’s ability to attract staff across sectors. Identifying available land, funding and building a long-term plan to address a deepening housing crisis is required. Cairns is among the top ten worst regions in terms of unmet housing needs across the nation. Purpose built student accommodation facilities will contribute to provide relief for the housing crisis. Delivering purpose-built student accommodation will ease the pressure on the rental market and release much needed housing stock for wider city needs.

Road Connectivity

An integrated and efficient road transport network is critical for economic stability and growth in Far North Queensland, a region of 380,000km² which includes some of the nation’s most remote communities. The region’s inland roads and Cairns’ access to the northern beaches and Tablelands play a vital role in enabling the productivity of northern Australia and the contribution to the national economy through improved connectivity to southern markets. The disruption and dislocation to these road networks in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper have underpinned the importance of these links to the region and indeed, to the nation. Growth in population, employment, tourism and freight volumes coupled with the increasing importance of food security, means safety and capacity requirements will only be exacerbated. Investment in FNQ’s road connectivity is crucial to avoid nationally significant productivity losses, to connect rural and remote communities and to ensure continued regional and state economic development.

Tablelands Access

The road network spanning Cairns’ northern beaches is of regional significance and remains essential to Far North Queensland’s future prosperity and liveability. A cohesive and effective road network between Cairns’ CBD and northern beaches guarantees access to vital healthcare, education and community services in addition to ensured resident, tourist and trade connectivity.

Cairns Northern Beaches Access

The road networks linking Cairns with the vital agricultural, mining and tourism regions of the Atherton Tablelands and beyond are critical enablers of the regional economy. With sizeable growth in both agriculture and mining in the region predicted in the next decade, a safe and reliable road network that enables increased heavy vehicle traffic is vital for economic growth and prosperity in the region. The road network in and out of Cairns acts as the main distribution hub for the region and is essential for further developing the agricultural and mining exports of the region. However, the growing demands for freight and increasing frequency of severe weather events, has strained the existing infrastructure, impacting transport costs and service levels across the supply chain.

Cairns Marine Precinct

The Cairns Marine Precinct is a critical enabler of the Far North Queensland economy and is central to building a sustainable, diversified future for the region. A leading maritime maintenance, repair and overhaul destination for vessels nationally and internationally, the precinct is home to a large and diverse marine sector including Defence and Border Force, a world-renowned tourism-reef fleet, commercial fishing and shipping, specialist boat builders and an active cruising yacht squadron, while also playing host to superyachts and cruise liners visiting the region. The precinct also offers education and training pathways delivered by the TAFE Great Barrier Reef International Marine College which are building the workforce for the future as well as playing a key role in capacity building across the Pacific.

Last updated: 15 March 2024