The Census and Cairns…less religious than your average Aussie

Today’s release of the 2016 Census data needs to be looked at carefully when considering the Cairns region. The de-amalgamation of Cairns Regional and Douglas Shire Councils in Jan 2014 makes comparison with the previous 2011 Census problematic. In order to make the comparisons we have added the Douglas Shire data to the Cairns Regional Council data for 2016 when comparing to 2011.

Total population has increased by 8% to 168,615 over the 5 years. The indigenous population growth rate has been much slower (just 4%) and a s a result the indigenous share of total population has fallen from 9.2% to 8.9%.

While Japanese (2,373) remains the most commonly spoken language (other than English) the two big movers in the past five years have been Punjabi (up 464% to 846) and Mandarin (up 165% to 1,166).

Along with the nation as a whole, the region has become significantly less religious over the five years. 32% of the total now claim no religion (up from 25% in 2011) which is higher than the national average of 30%. Christianity has fallen from 59% to 51% (of which the bulk are Catholics making up 23% of the total population).

Despite its aspirations as an innovative city internet connection remains a little below state and national averages at 82% (up from 78% in 2011).

Pete on radio 4CA this morning talking regional jobs and “lifestylepreneurs”

Pete spoke to John MacKenzie on radio 4CA this morning about jobs in Cairns. They also touched on a presentation in Cairns this morning from well-known commentator Bernard Salt in which he highlighted Cairns opportunities in embracing the growing trend for what he calls “lifestylepreneurs”. I’ll be posting in more depth on that fascinating presentation in the next few days. The Cairns Post had an article on the subject today (behind a paywall). You can listen to Pete’s interview below.

How to use and abuse statistics; a lesson from both LNP and ALP

My previous posts on the levels of youth unemployment in the Queensland regions has certainly created some interest. In a story in today’s Courier Mail both sides of the political divide have attempted to use the original, unadjusted ABS data on youth jobs to score points. As is too often the case the reality is rather different.

Firstly let’s take a look at the LNP claim that “about 11,000 young people have lost their jobs since the last election”. Given the last election was held on Jan 31st 2015 we shall use the Feb 2015 data as our starting point. The original ABS youth employment data for Queensland shows 400,700 young employed for that month. For May 2016 (latest available data) that number is 390,100; a loss of 10,600 which is certainly “about 11,000″…so far so good. However, what theses unadjusted numbers do not tell us (and the reason we must prefer our own Conus Trend series) is the effect of seasonal variation in this data set. Youth employment numbers are historically and consistently much higher in Dec, Jan and Feb than at other times of the year. If the LNP has used Mar 2015 as their starting point the difference would have been PLUS 11,800! The fact is that using “since the election” is a classic case of cherry-picking data to make a point. When we consider the Conus Trend data (which accounts for this kind of seasonality) we see youth employment since Feb 2015 has fallen just 300.

As if not to be outdone with the manipulation of data the Government’s Employment Minister Grace Grace claims that “youth unemployment has fallen in nine out of 12 statistical divisions in southeast Queensland”.This claim is tougher to address given that Grace has not specified a time frame as to since when “youth unemployment has fallen”. Also, does she mean actual unemployment numbers or the unemployment rate? If we assume she means exactly what she says (i.e. youth unemployment) rather than what we might think (i.e. youth unemployment rate) then of the 12 SEQ SA4 regions (those in Greater Brisbane) plus Gold Coast, Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa over the past month 8 have fallen….this is the closest we can get to what Grace is claiming. However, if we consider the original data from a year before then only 5 have fallen with the other 7 all up.

If Grace is referring to the youth unemployment rate then the original ABS data shows 7 fell over the past month but only 4 were down over the year. So even allowing for the use of the ABS original data, and looking at actual unemployment (rather than the rate) Grace’s statement is hard to back up. If we consider the Conus Trend Youth Unemployment Rates for these 12 regions we see 5 have rates which have fallen both from last month and last year.

The moral here is that using the ABS original data is fraught with danger and wide-open to cherry picking abuse. When we consider the Conus Trend data for youth unemployment we see that jobs have remained broadly stable over the course of the year. The Conus Trend Youth Unemployment Rate for the Greater Brisbane area is unchanged at 12.0% while for the Rest of Queensland it has actually fallen to 14% (from 15.6%); the issue of youth unemployment in Queensland is regionally very patchy and there is clearly no state-wide disaster at hand.

TTNQ lagging 20% behind their international targets

An article in today’s Cairns Post talking about how a lower A$ was helping to boost Australian tourism (both international and domestic) spurred me to take a quick look at how tourism in the Tropical North was tracking against the goals outlined in TTNQ’s 2011-2015 Strategic Plan.

The Plan targets Visitor Expenditure in the TNQ region to grow from $2.2bn for the year to Dec 2010 to $3.2bn by the end of 2015. At this stage we only have complete data available up to the end of the March quarter (international data to June but domestic only to March so far) and it seems to be doing well against that target.

Expenditure for domestic tourism was $1.984 bn ($1.744 bn from overnight and $240 m from day trips) while international was $963 m. This gives us a total of $2.947 bn for the year to March 2015. That requires just a 8.6% increase over the final 9 months, which at current growth rates looks possible (international expenditure for the year to June was up at $1bn for a 3.8% increase in that quarter).

However, where things start to look very interesting is when we consider the domestic/international split. In the Strategic Plan TTNQ are targeting the split to shift from 64% domestic, 36% international in 2010 to 57% domestic and 43% international by the end of this year. The Plans says “Although in meeting our goals we have the potential to grow our visitor expenditure by $1B, the significant contributor to this will be international visitor expenditure“. At this stage that shift has actually been going in the other direction. As at March 2015 domestic expenditure accounted for 67% while international only came in at 33%.

Whilst the total expenditure goal is within reach it’s been made possible by increases in the domestic market rather more than the international. The shift towards international expenditure that TTNQ were targeting just hasn’t happened.

Were the TTNQ goals to be reached by the end of this year the total $3.2 bn would come from $1.82 bn domestic and $1.38 bn international. As it is we are likely to see the total made up by about $2.1 bn domestic (15% over target) and $1.1 bn international (20% below target).

Cairns trend unemployment rate; the confusion still reigns

Just after Christmas The Cairns Post ran an article highlighting the differences between our own Conus Trend and that calculated by Rick Carr at Herron Todd White, when we both came up with some significantly different numbers for the Nov data (see my post on the article here). Today sees the release of HTW’s Cairns Watch report for January which includes the Dec Cairns region unemployment data (you can download the report here, and read our own post on the Dec data here).

What becomes clear is that the confusion caused by the problems the ABS have been having with their seasonal adjustment of employment data is making it very hard for the two of us to agree on what is going on in Cairns. Rick has the Trend unemployment rate in Cairns in Dec at 9.0% while our own Conus Trend data shows a rate of 7.6%. So who’s right? Well, frankly we won’t be able to answer that question until we see how the next few months of data pans out. If the move up that we saw in the original data in Dec is repeated in Jan and Feb then we can expect to see out own Conus Trend move higher (and the past readings also revised up). If, on the other hand, we see the original ABS data moving back down in Jan and Feb we would expect to see Rick’s Trend series fall sharply (with downward revisions to previous months). There is no simple answer, although obviously we prefer our own series!

The two graphs below (the second is taken from HTW’s Cairns Watch report) might help readers to get an idea of the difficulty that the two models are having, and the way in which both are trying to solve the problem. Trying to fit a trend line to such a volatile series as the original ABS data is always going to be a challenge! What is also clear that is, until the middle of 2014, the two series were actually tracking very closely to each other.




Regional jobs data; Conus and HTW

While we were away over the Christmas break The Cairns Post ran a piece (see below) highlighting the differences between our own Conus Trend labour force data for the regions and the Trend data provided by Rick Carr from Herron Todd White.


In actual fact Rick’s data and ours haven’t been that much at odds. The recent high levels of volatility seen in the ABS data (and the self-confessed problems they have had with their seasonal-adjustment process) have made both of our Trend analysis difficult, and appear to have caused some divergence recently. Nevertheless for the Nov data in Cairns our two series varied by only 900 jobs when considering the level of employment. As the article notes, Rick had 107,000 employed in Nov; our own series had 106,100 The apparent wide discrepancy in the Trend unemployment rate may well settle down following revisions as we see the next few months’ data from the ABS.

Today will see the release of the Dec regional jobs data (10:30am Queensland time) when we shall update our Conus Trend series. So far as I can tell Rick doesn’t publish his revisions to the HTW Trend data so we shall have to wait until the end of the month for his Cairns Watch publication graph before we can see if our two series have once again more closely aligned.

Thanks to Mark Beath at Loose Change who spotted the piece in the paper, saved it and sent it on to us when we got home.

Note to Cairns Post…there is data more recent than Sept 2012

A story in the Cairns Post today discusses a “mega-familiarisation” for backpacker tour agents in Cairns. The backpacker market is obviously an important sector for the region so this is good to see happening.

However, for reasons that escape us, the Post has decided to demonstrate the importance of the sector by using data from Tourism Research Australia’s Sept 2012 International Visitor Survey. This survey is conducted every quarter with the latest data available currently for the June 2014 quarter. Why hasn’t the Post used that data?

For the record the Sept 2012 numbers show backpackers making up 10% of all international visitors; that has fallen to 9.5% in the June 2014 data. While the total number of backpackers has increased by about 25,000 since Sept 2012 this equates to just a 4.5% increase while total international visitor numbers have increased at more than double that pace (+9.8%) in the same time.  Clearly the backpacker market is struggling to keep pace with the improvements being seen in the tourism market generally, which is not good news for a region which has traditionally been a favourite backpacker  destination.



Clearing up the Aquis media frenzy

Today’s Cairns Post has splashed with a story that Tony Fung is prepared to walk away from the Aquis proposal if his proposed take-over of the Reef Hotel Casino isn’t OK’d by the authorities soon enough. However, behind the brouhaha lies a simple truth; the process isn’t taking any longer than usual. The dates quoted in the Post’s story are just plain wrong; as Mark Beath points out in his excellent post, the formal offer on the Reef Casino didn’t happen until late March this year (not mid-November last year as suggested in the Post’s story).

Positioning and threats are all parts of “business as usual” at this kind of level, and Fung is no doubt a master at it (as the OLGR will be fully aware). However, the Post should be careful that it isn’t being used quite so blatantly.

UPDATE. Statement from the OLGR re Aquis as quoted on Member for Cairns, Gavin King’s Facebook page.

Cairns Post still trying to make sense of raw ABS data

Friday’s article from the Cairns Post (see here) on the regional jobs data makes it clear that they still haven’t got a grasp of how unreliable the raw ABS data is. The article reports a “bizarre situation” where the number employed a year ago is higher than the number employed now and yet the unemployment rate is lower. Given that this observation relates to the unadjusted ABS data, and given the fall in the Participation Rate which has been ongoing for some time, there is nothing “bizarre” about this at all.

Indeed the only bizarre thing we can see is the Post’s continued insistence on focusing on data which is so volatile as to be virtually useless as an indicator.

The Conus Trend data shows trend employment up 400 from a year ago, trend unemployment rate down 1% to 7.5%, and Participation down 2% to 61.7%; nothing bizarre there.