On 12 October 1923, the Town of Cairns was constituted a City, by the name of "City of Cairns", and the Cairns Town Council became the Cairns City Council. On 22 Mar 1995 a new Cairns City was created comprising Cairns City and the area of the abolished Mulgrave Shire, and parts of Douglas and Mareeba Shires.
The functions and powers of City Councils under the consolidated and amended "Local Authoritiies Act of 1902" included construction and maintenance of roads and streets, bridges, wharves and jetties and other public works, control of traffic, use of land and buildings for the provision of public services and amenities including fire stations, parks, libraries and other recreational, educational and civic facilities, pounds, cemeteries, dams, reservoirs and water supply infrastructure, gas and electricity works, street lighting, rubbish dumps, sewerage farms and disposal works. The "Local Authorities Acts Amendment Act 1923" provided increased powers to Councils in respect to roads, buildings and subdivisions which resulted in greater control of urban planning.
Councils were empowered to create by-laws with respect to all matters within their jurisdiction, but all such by-laws required the assent of the Governor-in-Council.
City Councils were also responsible for administering the Loan Fund and for carrying out valuations on properties for the purpose of collecting rates. Under the "Valuation of Land Act 1944" the Valuer-General became the sole valuation authority. In the 1970s City Councils ceased to distribute electricity. Other functions undertaken by Councils with other government instrumentalities have also ceased to be Council responsibilities including hospitals, fire brigades, ports and harbours, abattoirs and slaughterhouses.
In the 2000s City Councils through local laws promote economic development; own and manage public infrastructure including roads and public works, sewerage, and water storage and distribution; regulate activities which affect the environment including air, noise and water quality, land use and waste disposal, pests and noxious weeds, and building control; provide community services including recreational and cultural facilities and public health services.
Councils generate revenue from rates, grants and subsidies from state and federal governments, service charges, and loans for major projects.
Under the "Local Authorities Act of 1902" City Councils consisted of elected aldermen with the Chairman elected by the aldermen to be the Mayor. The chief administrator was the Town Clerk and Councils were given the authority to appoint other officers necessary to carry out their duties. Under the "Local Authorities Amendment Act 1920" adult franchise replaced rate-payer eligibility to vote. Under the "Local Government Act 1993" City Councils consist of a mayor and at least 5 councillors. In 2002 there were 12 divisional Councillors in the Cairns City Council. The Chief Executive Officer is responsible for carrying out the policies and decisions of the Council.
On 15 March 2008, Cairns City amalgamated with the Douglas Shire to form the Cairns Region.