Cairns Regional Council was formed in 2008 by the amalgamation of Cairns City and Douglas Shire. It is a coastal municipality, with a southern boundary near Babinda and a northern boundary beyond Cape Tribulation, a distance of 190 km. Cairns Regional Council's inland distance is about 25 km at Bellenden Ker, narrowing to only a few kilometres at Ellis Beach and widening again to about 50 km at Daintree. Its area is 4135 sq km.

Cairns Regional Council's population is concentrated around Cairns, on the coastal sugar-growing plains and the foothills of the mountain range. The coastal Thompson Range, east of Cairns, is taken by the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council (158 sq km).

Cairns City was formed in 1995 by the amalgamation of a much smaller urban council and the adjoining Mulgrave Shire. Their combined area was 1690 sq km. The shire had considerable residential overspill from Cairns, and numerous sugar towns such as Edmonton and Gordonvale. They are linked by a railway built in 1911-12. Inland from Cairns there is rail to the tablelands, conveying ore from Herberton and other mining towns and dairy produce from the Atherton district. It was built in stages, the section to Atherton being completed in 1903. Kuranda, the well-known tourist rail stop, is in Tablelands Regional Council.

Cairns City's population contribution to the Cairns Regional Council was 127,438 (2006) and Douglas Shire's was 10,193. Douglas Shire's two main towns were Mossman (1740) and Port Douglas (948). Tourism and related employment areas accounted for 26.5% of the shire's employment in 2006; in Port Douglas they accounted for 50% of employment, in Mossman about 10%, and in Cairns City about 10%. By way of comparison, retail and wholesale distribution amounted to 21.4% of employment in Cairns City in 2001.

Agriculture in the former Cairns City was mainly sugar-growing. There are mills at Babinda and Gordonvale. In the former Douglas Shire beef cattle, field crops and sugar made for a more varied agricultural economy. There is a sugar mill at Mossman.

In March 2013 more than 57% of voters in the former Douglas Shire opted to leave the Cairns Regional Council in a de-amalgamation vote. From April 2013 transition committees and interim CEOs were in place in the Douglas Shire leading to elections in late 2013 and a separate Douglas Shire council from 1 January 2014.

Cairns Regional Council's census populations have been:

Census datePopulation
2006137,631
2011156,169
Further Reading: 

Patsy Coverdale, North Queensland in black and white: a social history with views, stories and archaeology, Mitchem, MOQ Books, 2011

Cairns and Douglas Shire entries