There is an amusing debate occurring in North Queensland between Cairns economist Bill Cummings and Townsville economist Colin Dwyer over whether Cairns or Townsville has the larger population, as reported in the Townsville Bulletin on Friday. While there are more people living within the Townsville urban area than in the Cairns urban area, there are more people living in Cairns and its hinterland – taking in Cardwell and the Atherton Tableland, for example – than in Townsville and its hinterland. The Bulletin article, while a bit over the top in its opening, is nonetheless informative:
CAIRNS has been accused of fudging figures from the 2011 census in a desperate attempt to show its population is larger than Townsville’s.
The dodgy population count for the greater Cairns region includes residents from areas as far flung as Cardwell, Innisfail, the Tableland and even the Gulf bringing the grand total to 283,197 18,000 more than the greater Townsville area count of 265,170…
…Townsville economist Colin Dwyer questioned the sense in including surrounding towns in the analysis, saying the resident population of the two local government areas was a more accurate comparison.
A total of 178,375 people live within the Townsville City Council boundaries, while just 156,169 live in the Cairns Regional Council area.
For the purposes of settling the meaningless question of whether Townsville or Cairns is the capital of North Queensland, it makes more sense to look at the population of the relevant urban area, and in that case the numbers based on Council boundaries are more suitable. Hence Townsville takes the title. But there remains merit in the claim the broader Cairns region is more populous than the broader Townsville region, and it is confirmed in an informative Census brief released on Friday by OESR:
Don’t be put off by the weird title. SA4 stands for Statistical area level 4, and is the ABS’s uninformative, bland new name for the largest sub-state regions, formerly called Statistical Divisions. This OESR brief reports the Cairns SA4 population at 224,436 and the Townsville SA4 population at 217,897 on Census night in 2011.