Cairns among Australia's fastest growing cities
CAIRNS is one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia and the nation's 14th largest but business leaders say government funding and infrastructure are not keeping pace.
The Federal Government's State of Australian Cities 2012 report says in the decade to 2011, Cairns grew at a rate of 2.6 per cent, above the national average of 1.5 per cent, just behind national leader Gold Coast-Tweed (2.8 per cent).
The level of growth, from 112,932 people in 2001 to 146,477 last year, was ahead of cities enjoying the wealth of the resources sector, including Perth, Brisbane, Townsville and Darwin.
"It should be noted, however, the growth rates of Cairns and the Gold Coast have begun to moderate in recent years," the report said. Cairns is the 14th largest city in Australia, behind Townsville (13) and ahead of Darwin, Toowoomba and Launceston and is home to 3.3 per cent of Queenslanders.
Economic development group Advance Cairns and researcher Rick Carr said the report provided facts but no plans or money to meet the growth of the city.
Cairns Chamber of Commerce said it would provide the leverage to negotiate increased government funding.
The report noted that Cairns had one of the lowest rates of home ownership, less than 40 per cent and that more than 10 per cent of the city's 57,241 houses were empty, the fourth highest level among the 18 major cities and well above the major city average of 9.16 per cent.
Government and other social housing grew between 2006 and 2011 with the biggest increase in government housing of any major city.
The report said domestic tourism had grown but international numbers were down,.
Advance Cairns chief executive officer Stewart Christie said the figures need to be "translated and implemented" by local, state and federal governments into projects to handle the population growth.
But he feared the findings would get bogged down in a stalemate between the Queensland and federal governments.
Mr Christie said the report proved Cairns was one of the quickest growing in Australia.
"On that basis how do we get a fair share of infrastructure spending?" he said.
Mr Christie said studies by Cairns economist Bill Cummings had shown that over the past 30 years all levels of government had underestimated their growth predictions and the subsequent level of funds to the region.
Herron Todd White research director Rick Carr said there was nothing "earth shattering" in the report.
"It doesn't offer anything for the future, it's backward looking," he said.
Chamber chief executive officer Deb Hancock said the report did not reflect the upswing in more recent statistics.
"While our economy has struggled in recent times, we have still managed to increase our population at a steady rate, so we are clearly an ideal destination with strong liveability aspects. This also places Cairns in a great position to negotiate for government funding and infrastructure," she said.
Mr Cummings said despite the troubles since the global financial crisis in late 2008, Cairns had recorded good growth.
"While this is down a bit on the long term average since 1976 of about 3 per cent per annum, it is a continuation of the pattern that has seen Cairns pass seven other regional cities in population since 1996 (Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Orange/Bathurst, Albury/Wodonga, Bendigo, Ballarat and Launceston) to move up to 14th position and just behind Townsville," he said.
New Cairns resident Debbie Painter moved to the Far North with her family from the Gold Coast in January for a lifestyle change, and hasn't looked backed since.
``I love nature, so the mountains and the beaches, it's a slower pace of life,'' Mrs Painter said.
The Esplanade is awesome...When we first moved up, we were down nearly every night having a barbecue.''
Mrs Painter said her two children Isabel, 12, and Christian, 14, had also ``settled in really well'' and made some great friends.
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Change of pace: Sisters Michelle and Debbie Painter with their children Elizabeth, 9, Isabel, 12 and Christian, 14