FARM group AgForce says it has secured a promise from the Palaszczuk government to consider an industry led solution to save Queensland’s agricultural training colleges at Longreach and Emerald.
AgForce has been driving the 'hand them back' campaign following a storm of outrage at the Agriculture Minister Mark Furner's shock announcement that the facilities would be closed at the end of 2019.
The closures were announced without consulting rural industry groups such as AgForce and the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, adding weight the perception that agriculture remains a low priority for the Palaszczuk government.
Mrs Somerset said the colleges were too important to agriculture, and to the many rural and regional communities that depend on agriculture, to allow them to be axed.
"We believe these are unique, irreplaceable assets and we are currently engaging with organisations and community groups around the state to elicit their support and ideas to save them," Mrs Somerset said.
AgForce's plan is to overhaul these institutions and the services they offer to form the backbone of a comprehensive, future-looking rural research and education system that offers benefits beyond agriculture.
"AgForce's plan is to overhaul these institutions and the services they offer to form the backbone of a comprehensive, future-looking rural research and education system that offers benefits beyond agriculture.
"These well-equipped colleges, with their unique locations and infrastructure, offer opportunities to support profitable and sustainable agriculture in areas like carbon-neutral farming, drought mitigation, flora and fauna conservation, reef preservation and increased indigenous and female participation."
The commitment came a day after the Green Shirts Movement protested outside Mr Furner’s electorate office in Brisbane. That protest was sparked by the recent bush fire crisis and the Palaszczuk government’s continued dismissive approach to many of the issues facing agriculture, particularly vegetation management.
Mrs Somerset said the commitment was a positive first step in retaining the colleges for future generations, but said the future of the colleges remained far from certain.
"Although not exactly the outcome we were aiming for - a commitment to handing the colleges back to industry - it is a positive foundation on which we as an industry must build as we work together to secure the future of the colleges,” Mrs Somerset said.
"We believe the minister now understands the level of anger in the bush at his decision to close the colleges without any meaningful consultation, as well as our steadfast determination to ensure these vital assets remain within the industry.
"AgForce is proud to be leading the charge on this issue, and will continue to collaborate with stakeholders, communities, the regions, and Minister Furner and his team to develop an effective, enduring solution."
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the closure of colleges was the most callous act in living memory.
“While the rest of the country is trying to build up these drought ravaged communities the state government is trying to tear them down,” Mr Littleproud said
“If Labor cut vital education services in Brisbane, people would be outraged.
“The Queensland Government needs to hand the keys to the colleges back to people who care about agriculture and our food supply.
“Our farmers grow our food and without agricultural colleges, we don’t have the next generation coming through to grow that food. Brisbane folk eat the food we grow them out here in country Queensland and we need them to fight for us on this one.
“These colleges could be teaching our young people the sustainable farming methods of the future. Instead they’ll sit empty, if Labor gets its way.
“Brisbane understands it can’t function without rural Queensland. We supply the food and a good portion of the budget. We need Labor to understand that too.”