Thursday, January 5, 2012

Drowning in Debt?

The Cairns Post has reported that we are drowning in $11.6 million of debt and which places us only behind low-rent Logan. 
"The debts and fines range from court orders, and parking and speeding fines, to unpaid electricity and medical bills."
There follows explanations and expressions of concern from various identities and commentators blaming tourism, transient populations and the economy and this is frightening "for a city the size of Cairns". Problem is that the data is based on postcode and Cairns 4870 is one of the largest population postcodes in Queensland at almost double the population of Logan 4114 based on 2006 Census.

The data comes from the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER) within the Department of Justice. The Brisbane Times report includes a link to a pdf file of the data for all postcodes in Queensland. This makes it somewhat unwieldy to trawl and correlate with census population data however a few relevant comparisons may be indicative.

The data also includes number of fines and number of debtors for the outstanding amounts for each postcode. If we compare the number of debtors per capita for each postcode Cairns 4870 comes in at 16.76% with  an average debt/debtor of $1,167. Number of debtors/capita in Logan 4114 comes in at 24.88% with significantly higher debt/debtor.

Brisbane City 4000 scores highly with 28% of its modest population as debtors. Combined with a contribution from GPO 4001 this makes the CBD easily the state 'hotspot'. However, what appears obvious here is that a postcode with a high proportion of business addresses will inflate this percentage relative to population. The data is based on the postcode address attributed to each outstanding debtor. Being a business centre is at least as relevant as population or demographics. Indooroopilly has a modest 7.46% debtors.

This trend is also evident in Townsville where the central 4010 poscode is the leader with 25.17%. Aggregating the next five adjacent Townsville postcodes produces an average 15.6% debtors, broadly in line with Cairns. Townsville has a higher outstanding debt/ debtor.

There is a strong variation between other Cairns postcodes with 4868 to the south having 14.43% debtors and 4879 at the beaches just 8.27%, which is not that different from Indooroopilly. Albeit this is based on 2006 census populations which may be dated but should still be broadly indicative.

The data provides an interesting perspective and it would be good to have a more detailed breakdown, such as based on business and residential adress, and a better format. What is a surprise is not any regional anomally in Cairns, which is not particularly evident on relevant comparisons, or the aggregate of such debt outstanding, but rather the overall number and implied proportions of outstanding debtors. 

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