Gavin King

Tropic Now editor

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The great Cairns vs Townsville population debate

The most recently available population figures from the Queensland Government paint an intriguing contrast between the state's northern cities and regions.

Despite being more than 12 months old - the most up-to-date statistics available are current as of June 30th 2016 - the Tropical North's population growth rate of 0.9% pushed our population to 297,291 people.

At the same time, growth in the Townsville-centred North Queensland region went backwards by -0.1%.

Indeed, annual population growth in Townsville itself has lagged behind Cairns every year since 2012, slipping to just 0.7% growth in 2016 compared to 1% in Cairns.

The sluggish growth performance by our southern neighbour has re-ignited the debate over funding disparities within the local business community.

After all, higher population growth surely demands more funding, but that doesn't appear to be the case when comparing government largesse bestowed on Townsville compared to Cairns.

The $250 million rectangular stadium being built in Townsvile is just one case in point. The higher level of funding granted to Townsville Hospital compared to Cairns Hospital is another key concern of local leaders. And let's not get started on transport infrastructure projects such as the impressive Townsville Ring Road.


According to Conus economist Pete Faulkner however, the question of which city deserves more funding is a matter of opinion - and politics.

"It depends which side of the fence you sit on... whether you believe that funding should be directed on a 'needs' or a 'per capita' basis," Mr Faulkner told TropicNow.

"You could make the point that higher population growth requires the most funding, but of course you could also see it the other way and argue that because of the decline in North Queensland - probably driven largely by the decline in employment and economic activity - it should therefore have attracted more funding."

Mr Faulkner said that while it was encouraging to see a steady return to a more "robust pace" of growth, the two regions in the north were still growing at a slower rate than the Queensland average.


"While population estimates for Cairns Regional Council area have grown (2015-2016) by more than in Townsville City Council area (+1.0% v +0.7%) both of these are slower than the Queensland average (+1.3%)," he said.

"Certainly seeing growth returning to a more robust pace is good news for both areas after a couple of years of growth well below trend.

"But I'm not convinced that saying it's good news for Cairns just because we're beating Townsville gets us anywhere.

"In my honest opinion the incessant need to 'beat' Townsville doesn't help anyone. Improving outcomes across the whole of regional Queensland, and in particular in the North, should be the focus."