Future of colleges still unclear in wake of Furner visit

Ag Minister Furner visits empty college campuses on final day

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Agriculture Minister Mark Furner did not reveal what the future of the closed QATC campuses at Emerald and Longreach would be when he visited the Longreach Pastoral College on the final day for the QATC on Friday. Picture - Sally Cripps.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner did not reveal what the future of the closed QATC campuses at Emerald and Longreach would be when he visited the Longreach Pastoral College on the final day for the QATC on Friday. Picture - Sally Cripps.

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As the gates were closed to the Emerald and Longreach Pastoral Colleges on Friday morning, Queenslanders continue to wait for news on what the future for the sites will be.

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As the gates were closed to the Emerald and Longreach Pastoral Colleges on Friday morning, Queenslanders continued to wait for news on what the future for the sites would be.

When it became known that Agriculture Minister Mark Furner was visiting the campuses on Friday morning, hopes were high that news of a way forward would be announced but it was not to be.

Despite a media release titled "New era of vocational training in central and western Queensland", it had scant detail on what that would look like.

Standing beside the closed gates of the Longreach Pastoral College, Mr Furner said commercial-in-confidence requirements meant he was not in a position to elaborate on the proponents that have an interest in the colleges progressing, saying only that there were several expressions of interest from people who wanted to see a "varied and vast use of both the campuses for the use of not only training but other purposes to support the community".

Saying the new operations would be a mixture of different needs, he reiterated that the agricultural training model as shut down had deteriorated in terms of the delivery and purpose as students voted with their feet and moved to other forms of VET training or online means of gaining an agricultural education.

"So I want to see these campuses grow and not only just be in the purpose of providing education for agriculture," he said.

Related: Devastation over pastoral college closures

Mr Furner said he expected an outcome early in the new year and wanted to see some progress so they could start looking at opportunities to support the communities at Emerald and Longreach.

While in Longreach he took the opportunity to meet with the Longreach Regional Council, where he gave assurances that the campus would not be mothballed if there were community needs.

"They're still here to be used by the community but we have to work through a process of how we engage with those opportunities," he said.

"The Longreach Regional Council has indicated there's several opportunities next year that will be considering for use of the colleges.

"They're...not necessarily things the council has in mind, but there are events next year so they'll definitely be putting those forward so we can plan ahead in terms of what that means for support of the community but also supporting the needs of the college here."

Mayor Ed Warren said that could include an accommodation overflow for the Qantas 100 year celebrations.

"That sort of thing might come up in the next few months, and for whoever runs it commercially," he said.

Commenting on the process of repurposing the college campus, Cr Warren said he understood a feasibility study had only just been handed to the minister so it had to be assessed to see how everyone could work together.

A number of community members gathered at the college gates on Friday morning to commemorate the closure with an RIP ceremony, and Mr Furner was met at the Longreach airport when he landed.

"I accept that people have degrees of anxiety or concern about what's happening," he said.

"I ask them to look forward into the future, don't look in the rear vision mirror.

"Work with us to make sure these opportunities flourish.

"Everyone in this community has a chance to make something good out of these colleges and we want to make sure that continues."

Mr Furner said staff had been provided all their entitlements.

"They've been provided with a pen of some shape or form and I understand they have been treated with respect and providing their entitlements as they, in many cases voluntarily accepted those arrangements," he said.

Earlier in the week Longreach resident Rosemary Champion expressed outrage at what she describes as an appalling lack of disregard for loyal staff who she said had walked out the door with barely more than a nod.

DAF is providing caretaker and maintenance duties at the colleges while the transition process is finalised.

Read more: Closing ag colleges saddens and shocks

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