Also known as Tropical North Queensland, Far North Queensland is the northernmost part of Queensland. Stretching from Cardwell up to the Torres Strait, it is Queensland’s largest region, covering 20% of the state (about one and a half times the state of Victoria).

The region is one of Australia’s most beautiful and diverse, being the only place in the world where 2 World Heritage Listed areas meet – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

The region is an investor hotspot, providing opportunities across a broad range of sectors, underpinned by:

  • a resilient and diverse economy
  • steadily growing population base
  • skilled workforce
  • stable political environment
  • established local supply chains
  • culture of innovation and entrepreneurship
  • unparalleled biodiversity
  • plentiful water supply and natural resources
  • direct air access via and the Cairns International Airport
  • direct international sea access via the Cairns Seaport
  • close proximity to Asian markets.

The regional population of Far North Queensland is approximately 289,000 (2019), and this is expected to increase to approximately 378,000 by 2041.1

Cairns

Cairns is a vibrant tropical city, strategically located as a world-class tourism and commercial hub. Proximity to Asia-Pacific markets creates exciting opportunities for tourism development, investment, trade and business.

As the international gateway to two of the world’s great natural wonders – the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest – Cairns is renowned worldwide as a premier tourist destination. As well as the resident population of 253,000 (2019),2 Cairns also services significant visitor numbers. Over 3 million visitors were recorded in 2019, including almost 500,000 international visitors.3

Direct air and sea access provide a competitive advantage to capitalise on the rapidly-expanding Asian economies and the burgeoning Asian tourism market. Direct connections to major Australian capital cities and international services to China, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Bali and Papua New Guinea open the door to lucrative commercial opportunities.4

Cairns Seaport is located just minutes from the city centre. A multi-purpose port, it caters to cruise shipping, fishing fleets, reef passenger ferries and bulk and general cargo. The port’s bulk cargo includes petroleum products, sugar, fertiliser and liquid petroleum gas.

With its stable economic environment and strong growth forecasts, combined with competitive property markets and a flexible planning regime, investors are drawn to Cairns’ safe long-term investment climate. For more information, please see the Cairns Regional Council’s investment incentives.

Economy and infrastructure

Far North Queensland covers a vast and economically diverse area. Key industries are tourism, agriculture, mining, health, education, marine, aviation and construction.

The Cairns economy was valued at $9.6 billion in 2019.5

The region offers unparalleled opportunities for investors that are seeking:

  • a resilient and diversified economy with unmatched natural advantages
  • a growing population base that has demonstrated resilience to changing economic conditions
  • an entrepreneurial culture and a successful history of attracting investment and fostering new businesses
  • established local supply chains in tourism, agribusiness, marine services, aviation, international education and construction
  • an export ready agribusiness industry
  • thriving international education sector
  • an experienced construction sector
  • strong tourism support industries, particularly accommodation, marine services, aviation services and retail
  • a region with aspirations for growth, and the economic fundamentals and local champions to ensure these aspirations are realised.

Far North Queensland is located on the doorstep of emerging Asia, is one of the most developed cities in the tropics and is well connected with the rest of Queensland and Australia. This offers unrivalled strategic advantages for business located in the region.

With easy access through Cairns International Airport, the multi-use Cairns International Seaport and road and rail links to major Australian cities, the region offers unmatched connectivity in Northern Australia.

Industry growth areas

Tourism

An international mecca for tourists, Far North Queensland is the gateway to the natural beauty of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest and Cape York, with visitor expenditure exceeding $3.5 billion in 2019.6

The largest group of international visitors to the region comes from China, followed by Japan, USA, UK, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, India, France and Netherlands.

Tourism is a major contributor to the economy, responsible for around 20% of jobs and $2.8 billion of gross regional product. The tourism industry is a major catalyst for public and private infrastructure development in Far North Queensland.7

Food and agribusiness

With abundant fertile land and water supplies, agriculture is an important sector in the Cairns region, contributing $925 million to the economy in 2018-19.8

Agricultural production has been continuing to expand, especially in the Mareeba Dimbulah Irrigation Area, the new cropping areas near Cooktown and in the Gulf.

Major agriculture industries include bananas, sugar cane, beef, avocados, dairy, potatoes, mangoes, citrus, vegetables, tea, nuts, tropical exotics and forestry. Leading agricultural export products include raw sugar, live cattle, mangoes, avocadoes, lychees and coffee. Far North Queensland is a global leader in tropical agriculture practice with processes, insights and innovations that are leading the way for tropical economies.

Cairns is a key commercial fishing port in Queensland. It is the fourth largest home port for the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and a home port for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn fishery. The diverse range of wild-caught species in this region include: prawns, barramundi, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, tuna, crabs and lobster. The East Coast Trawl Fishery is the largest of Queensland’s commercial fisheries operating in the region targeting mostly prawns, but also harvests bugs, squid, and other species.

A large fishing industry supplies Asian and domestic markets with fresh and frozen product, while the aquaculture sector focuses on prawns, barramundi and red claw.

The food manufacturing sector produces a range of products including dairy, beef, poultry, pork, banana flour, dried fruits, cocoa, chia seeds, honey, nuts, coffee, tea, a large range of fruit wines and liqueurs, Australian native fruit condiments, vanilla bean, and specialty cheeses.

Mining and resources

The North West Queensland minerals province and nearby Papua New Guinea have attracted a growing cluster of mining services to the region.9

A number of major mining operations occur in the region, including Rio Tinto (Weipa), Cape Flattery Silica Mines (Mitsubishi Corporation), New Century Resources (Lawn Hill), Consolidated Tin Mines (Mount Garnet), and Metro Mining (Weipa).

Cairns is an ideal engineering and manufacturing hub for the booming resource sector in the Oceania-Australasia region. The engineering and steel fabrication sector provides specialist metal products, machinery and equipment manufacturing capabilities for a diverse range of industries.

Construction

The region has a diverse and highly capable building and construction sector, with about 2,500 businesses involved in the construction industry in 2019.10

Environmental sustainability, tropical design and liveability are driving building solutions in the region.

Marine

Cairns has the largest marine tourism sector in Australia with The Reef Fleet Terminal as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. About 1 million people visit the Reef from Cairns each year.11 Cairns is also home to Australia’s largest privately-owned shipping company – Seaswift Pty Ltd.12

Beyond marine tourism, the sector also covers recreational activity for super yachts, local charters, recreational boating and cruise liners.

Over 100 businesses make up the Carins Marine Precinct and operate to cater to the ever growing demand in the region. This includes provedore services and a combination of world-class marine refit, maintenance and shipbuilding companies in Cairns.13

The Cairns trading port also handles bulk carriers, coastal shipping, mother ships, and project specific cargo and container carriers. $1.3 million tonnes of cargo moved through Cairns in 2018-19.14

Overall, over 7 million tonnes of cargo was moved throughout Ports North’s nine ports in 2018-19 bound for domestic and international markets.15

Cairns is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in Australia.

Aviation

Aviation is a priority sector in the region and plays an important role in the global aerospace market.

Cairns Airport features a thriving General Aviation Precinct which includes a diverse range of services such as:

  • maintenance repair organisations
  • engine and propeller overhaul and repair
  • fixed and rotary wing regular public transport
  • charter and tourism services
  • aeromedical services
  • police air wing
  • private aircraft owners
  • Royal Flying Doctor Service
  • fuel supplies
  • firefighting
  • mail delivery services
  • coastal surveillance
  • aircraft detailing
  • weather services
  • corporate jet handling
  • Customs
  • domestic and international freight
  • aircraft brokering
  • engineering training
  • cabin crew training.

Located in Cairns, Hawker Pacific Pty Ltd is a leading integrated global aviation solutions provider with more than thirty-five years’ experience serving corporate, government and private customers across the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The facility is a Bombardier Dash 8 Authorised Service Facility and is one of only three such independent support facilities in the world, and the only one in the Asia-Pacific region.  Hawker Pacific is also an Embraer Commercial Authorised Service Centre (for regional airlines) for the Asia Pacific (Cairns and Singapore). The Cairns facility currently provides heavy maintenance, base maintenance and aircraft modification support for customers both domestic and international.  Co-located at Cairns is Hawker Pacific Avionics, providing extensive avionics, bench, installation and retrofit capabilities including design engineering.  In addition, the Cairns Fixed Base Operation lounge provides VIP and ground handling services to a range of customers.

The Cairns Aviation Skills Centre delivers world class training to meet the growing demand from local industry for engineers and apprentices to support industry growth.

The Mareeba Airport, located approximately 22 nautical miles (10–15 minutes’ flying time) west of Cairns International Airport. A $23 million upgrade was completed in 2019 and will provide opportunity for activities such as pilot training, maintenance and some general aviation, resulting in catalytic economic benefits for the region.16

Other airports are located at across the region including Weipa, Innisfail, Horn Island, Cooktown, Karumba, Bamaga, Normanton, Mornington Island, Lockhart River, Lizard Island, Kowanyama, Coen, Burketown and Aurukun.

International education and training

The region boasts a strong and diverse tertiary education sector, including James Cook University, CQUniversity and TAFE North.

The training capability of the region spans the marine, aviation, mining, tourism and hospitality sectors.

Growth in the sector is supported by the experience and expertise of the region’s training providers in tropical fields, including tropical medicine and economies, disaster management, and marine biology.

Cairns’ geographic proximity to key source markets has the potential to be another significant point of differentiation for the international education sector – particularly given the expected growth in demand from source markets in the Asia Pacific.  Cairns Airport is the closest entry point into Queensland for both established and emerging source markets in this region.

In addition to the formal education sector, the region attracts a considerable number of visitors seeking a combined tourism-education experience.

International students make up an increasingly important part of the local education economy, with over 2,600 international student enrolments in Cairns in 2019.17

International education and training interests in the region are serviced by the Study Cairns regional study cluster supported by TIQ’s Study Queensland team.

Trade and investment services

Far North Queensland is serviced by TIQ’s Cairns Office.

References

1Queensland Government Statistician’s Office, 2016, ‘Queensland Regional Profile – SA3 (Far North, Cairns, Innisfail, Port Douglas and Tablelands)’, https://statistics.qgso.qld.gov.au/qld-regional-profiles, accessed July 2020.

2Queensland Government Statistician’s Office, 2016, ‘Queensland Regional Profile – SA4 (Cairns)’, https://statistics.qgso.qld.gov.au/qld-regional-profiles, accessed July 2020.

3Queensland Government Tourism and Events Queensland, Sept 2019, ‘Tropical North Queensland’, https://teq.queensland.com/research-and-insights/domestic-research/regional-summaries/tropical-north-queensland, accessed July 2020.

4Cairns Airport Pty Ltd, June 2020, ‘Monthly Passenger Statistics: June 2020’, https://www.cairnsairport.com.au/assets/FlightSchedules/CNS-Passenger-Statistics.pdf, accessed July 2020.

5Cairns Regional Council, 2019, ‘National Economics (NIEIR) – Modelled series: Cairns Gross Regional Product’, https://economy.id.com.au/cairns/gross-regional-product, accessed July 2020.

6Queensland Government Tourism and Events Queensland, Sept 2019, ‘Tropical North Queensland Regional Snapshot’, https://teq.queensland.com/research-and-insights/domestic-research/regional-summaries/tropical-north-queensland, accessed July 2020.

7Queensland Government Tourism and Events Queensland, 2017-18, ‘Regional Tourism Satellite Account’, https://teq.queensland.com/research-and-insights/domestic-research/regional-tourism-satellite-accounts, accessed July 2020.

8Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (ABARES), June 2020, ‘About my region – Cairns Queensland’, https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/aboutmyregion/qld-cairns#agricultural-sector, accessed July 2020

9Queensland Government Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation, July 2019, ‘A Strategic Blueprint for Queensland’s North West Minerals Province’, https://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/regions/regional-priorities/strategic-blueprint-nwmp.html, accessed July 2020.

10Cairns Regional Council, 2019, ‘Australian Bureau of Statistics – Business register – Cairns businesses by industry’, https://economy.id.com.au/cairns/employment-by-industry, accessed July 2020.

11Cairns Regional Council, June 2020, ‘Strategic industry sectors – Marine’, https://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/building-planning-business/business-and-economic-development/data/strategic-industry-sectors#marine, accessed July 2020.

12Queensland Investment Commission, July 2019, ‘QIC Global Infrastructure enters agreement to acquire Sea Swift’, https://www.qic.com.au/knowledge-centre/qic-global-infrastructure-enters-agreement-to-acquire-sea-swift-20190905, accessed July 2020.

13Cairns Regional Council, June 2020, ‘Strategic industry sectors – Marine’, https://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/building-planning-business/business-and-economic-development/data/strategic-industry-sectors#marine, accessed July 2020.

14Ports North, 2019, ‘Annual Report 2018-19’, https://www.portsnorth.com.au/news-publications/annual-reports/, accessed July 2020.

15Queensland Government Department of Transport and Main Roads, June 2019, ‘Trade Statistics for Queensland Ports’, https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/business-industry/Transport-sectors/Ports/Port-governance/Trade-statistics-for-Queensland-ports, accessed July 2020.

16Mareeba Shire Council, 2019, ‘Mareeba Airport Aviation Industrial Park’, https://msc.qld.gov.au/investment-opportunities/mareeba-airport-aviation-industrial-park/, accessed July 2020.

17Australian Government Department of Education Skills and Employment, Feb 2020, ‘International students studying in regional areas’, https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/Research-Snapshots/Documents/Location%20of%20International%20Students%20in%202019.pdf (accessed through https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/research-snapshots/pages/default.aspx), accessed July 2020.