Cairns Marine Precinct

  • The Cairns Marine Precinct is a national defence asset that employs 4600 people.
  • A stage 2 commitment is now sought requiring two tranches of investment: $25 million with $1 million to be allocated to a precinct-wide business case; and (ii) on completion of the business case, $100 million to support delivery of the recommended actions.
  • Commitment is also sought to secure the long term, continuous maintenance and sustainment programs for at least four Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) in Cairns.
  • Investment in the precinct complements the Queensland Superyacht Strategy 2018-2023 and the growing Defence requirements of Australia’s Step-up to the Pacific initiatives.

The Cairns Port is a critical enabler of the Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) economy, with the region welcoming the Federal Government’s commitment to base at least four new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) in Cairns over the next decade. The sustainment and maintenance of vessels in northern Australia aligns well with existing shipbuilding commitments in southern Australia, and complements the strategic objectives of Australia’s Step-Up to the Pacific foreign policy initiatives.

As a national naval sustainment and maintenance hub, the Cairns Marine Precinct currently services vessels from HMAS Cairns, Darwin, the United States and the Pacific Islands. The significant Defence and Border Force contracts managed out of the precinct ensure a skilled, permanent marine and engineering workforce of 4600 people is retained year-round. The economic significance of the precinct is reflected in the shipbuilding and repairs sector specialisation ratio of 24.24 (Cairns LGA).

In addition to servicing Australia’s Defence fleet, Cairns is home to a large and diverse marine sector with 1603 commercial vessels registered across tourism, fishing and shipping, and an active cruising yacht squadron. The precinct also plays host to superyachts and cruise liners visiting the Pacific.

To retain its vital workforce and meet the needs of this growing sector, Cairns requires additional marine maintenance and sustainment capability. This will enable the precinct to continue to service Defence, Border Force and industry needs while providing growth, jobs and a secure future for TNQ families.

Under an existing $24 million Federal Government commitment, Stage 1 of a Cairns Marine Maintenance Precinct upgrade has delivered wharves, hardstands, slipway extension and service upgrades.

A commitment of $125 million is now sought for Stages 2 and 3, which will lead to significant increases in precinct capacity and complement the Department of Defence $420 million commitment to expand the HMAS Cairns naval base. Stages 2 and 3 will also complement and support the Queensland Superyacht Strategy 2018-2023 and the Ports North Master Planning process.



The Cairns Marine Precinct has serviced the Defence, Border Force and marine industries for many years and as home to Fleet Base Pacific (HMAS Cairns), is one of the few ports in Australia that can offer the Department of Defence significant expansion opportunities in berth and land facilities.

Under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act (2018) the Cairns port is a critical national infrastructure asset. It is the northern-most naval base on the eastern seaboard and plays a key strategic role in Australia’s northern naval capability. In acknowledging this role, in 2017-2018 the Federal Government committed to upgrading the precinct through staged investment.

HMAS Cairns employs about 900 Navy and civilian personnel, and provides administrative, logistic and maintenance support to nine homeported vessels, consisting of one Armidale Class patrol boat, two Cape Class patrol boats, two Leeuwin Class hydrographic survey ships and four Paluma Class survey motor launches. Cairns also provides support for Pacific Class patrol boats operated by neighbouring Pacific nations.

To develop additional wharf space and support infrastructure within HMAS Cairns, the Federal Government has pledged $120 million in this decade and $300 million in the subsequent decade.

It has been calculated that for every dollar spent on Defence in Cairns, the multiplier effect equates to over $5 in other sectors of the economy. A Defence investment of $420 million will therefore have an impact of $2 billion on the TNQ economy.



Federal commitment is sought to secure the long term, continuous maintenance and sustainment programs in Cairns for OPVs, Pacific Patrol Boats, Armidale Class Patrol Boats and Custom Cape Class Patrol Boats to complement existing contracts for Hydrographic Survey Vessels and Survey Motor Launches. This commitment will:

  • Leverage the Cairns Marine Precinct’s current capability, ensuring value for money for the State and Federal Governments
  • Support job creation and economic growth for TNQ
  • Offer a continuous Naval patrol boat sustainment solution
  • Provide industry continuity and sustain marine capability to service Step up to the Pacific project initiatives from Cairns
  • Support ongoing innovation and development of marine industry expertise in northern Australia

In addition, to ensure that Cairns Marine Precinct infrastructure meets the future needs of Defence and industry, Federal investment is sought for Stages 2 and 3 of the precinct upgrade. Stage 2 requires $25 million, with $24 million to be shared across each of the three slipways in 2020 and $1 million to be invested in developing a precinct-wide business case. Stage 3 requires $100 million to support delivery of the recommended actions.

Note: The specialisation ratio referred to above is measured by comparing an industry’s share of total employment in a particular regional economy with the corresponding share of total employment for the overall Queensland economy for a given time period. An industry recording a ratio above 1.2 is considered ‘specialised’ in terms of employment, indicating its comparative importance (Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning. Manufacturing Hub Delivery Model: Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton. November 2018).


  • That the Department of Defence delivers on the $420 million HMAS Cairns expansion by 2026 and allocates at least four, and preferably six, Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to be home based in Cairns, including associated sustainment and maintenance work.
  • That the Federal Government commits $125 million for stages 2 and 3 to further develop the Cairns Marine Precinct, delivering the Government a strategic national Defence asset that meets the security needs of Australia in the Pacific region.
  • That the Federal Government commits to a long term, continuous maintenance and sustainment industry for Defence and Border Force vessels in Cairns.

PROPONENTS: Advance Cairns, Tropical Reef Shipyard, Norship, BSE Maritime Solutions
PRIORITY: Infrastructure