Western Queensland councils have moved quickly to fill the agricultural training void left by last week’s news that the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges will cease operation at the end of 2019.
Meeting at the weekend, the Remote Area Planning and Development Board, made up of the seven western Queensland councils, has announced that it is “ready, willing and able” to work proactively with the state government to be part of the solution immediately.
Chairman Rob Chandler will be seeking pre-Christmas meetings with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her ministers to secure what it sees as the right combination of interested parties to deliver an education service that meets the needs of the region to economically diversify.
Cr Chandler said while last week’s announcement was “swift and hard”, the need now was to turn the situation into an opportunity.
The organisation became a registered training organisation about 10 years ago to help fill a gap in the VET sector in the region and its general manager, David Arnold said it had the runs on the board.
Employing nine staff and offering dozens of courses and qualifications across 12 different industries, RAPAD Skilling has tripled its enrolment numbers this year.
“At that time (2008) neither the LPC or TAFE system expressed an interest in offering VET courses outside of their existing scope, or in the region, respectively,” Mr Arnold said.
The mayor of the town most immediately impacted by the changes at the Longreach Pastoral College, Ed Warren, said what worked 20 or 30 years ago wasn’t appropriate for today.
“We’ve been trying to work with the college board on how to make it more user-friendly and more viable for two years,” he said.
“It was timely to bring this to a head – the college was going further down in the mire, running on a departmental risk approach, which was so offputting.
“For example, people wanted to pay a fee for service for its slaughter facilities but the college found it too hard.
“Once it got into the department it was set up for failure.”
The Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges, a statutory authority responsible to the Minister for Agriculture through the establishment of a corporation governing board, started on July 1, 2014.
Cr Warren said RAPAD was in a good place to talk with the government and had an opportunity to take on the management of the college at Longreach immediately, with money provided by the state government.
“AgForce’s position is synonymous with our thoughts but I don’t think they’d be a principal operator,” he said.
On Monday, AgForce demanded the state government hand the colleges at Longreach and Emerald back to industry if its bureaucracy was unable to successfully and sustainably manage them, saying it had a plan to overhaul them and the services they offered, “to form the backbone of a comprehensive, future-looking rural research and education system that offers benefits beyond agriculture”.
President, Georgie Somerset, said that as the peak body for broadacre agriculture – and Australia’s only state farming organisation accredited as an RTO – AgForce had the expertise, the will and the remit to lead such an initiative.
“We are already having informative discussions with producers, community organisations, councils, MPs and others throughout Queensland, as well as with other primary producer peak bodies,” she said.
Mr Arnold said RAPAD had an excellent track record in the VET area and had been at the start of key projects like the Big Red Truck, an Education Queensland-led Australian College of Tourism concept, which had been highlighted in the Coaldrake Review.
“Many of the courses nominated as areas of opportunity in the Coaldrake report such as tourism, hospitality, civil construction, community services, business are already being delivered locally by us, and the opportunity exists to expand on these into new areas,” he said.
RAPAD has already engaged the international drone community and is working with renewable energy leaders.
Cr Chandler said it knew opportunities existed for training in new technologies and innovation across local government, agriculture and tourism.
A number of long-dormant ideas were being put forward, such as partnering with universities, a rangelands institute, international students for the Longreach State High School, and a flying school.
“Our counterparts at Desert Channels Queensland have vast experience in natural resource management and pest animal and weed control.
“We are at the tip of an iceberg of training and skilling opportunities, but the government needs to come with us,” Cr Chandler said, indicating that RAPAD needed the government to now outline the process going forward and disclose what discussion had been held to date.
“We need a long-term commitment that this will be a genuine focused transition not a 12 month handover and then a hand-washing,” he said.
‘No model will survive on agriculture alone’
Cr Warren said no model would survive on agriculture alone, but agriculture would need to be an integral part of any plan going forward.
“I think we have to be successful with what we know we can already achieve and develop from there with some opportunity areas.”
He said he never feared that the college would become a location for a correctional centre after hosting the Premier in Longreach at the start of the year.
“She was looking at our model for funding wild dog fences and we took the opportunity to brief her on other things that were happening,” Cr Warren said. “We told her we didn’t want the college sold or turned into a prison farm and she said, definitely not.”
Cr Warren added that he believed the Longreach and Emerald training facilities would part ways under any new model, describing the Emerald Agricultural College as a “different kettle of fish”.