The passing of the Agriculture and Other Legislation Amendment Bill in the Queensland Parliament on Thursday afternoon has sealed the fate of the Emerald and Longreach agricultural training colleges.
Without prior notice or parliamentary committee scrutiny, the bill had the repeal of the Agricultural Training Colleges Act inserted at the last minute.
According to Agriculture Minister Mark Furner, it has been repealed in order to give the government the powers it needs to make commercial arrangements "for the best possible future use of the Emerald and Longreach facilities".
Gregory MP Lachlan Millar, whose electorate is home to both former training venues, said Thursday's vote meant the assets would be disposed of so neither community could restore the campuses.
"The amendments in this bill show the Coaldrake review was conducted on legally false grounds," he said. "The minister did not have the power to dispose of the assets so the Coaldrake review should have focused on how to lift enrolments."
"This community consultation was all about what to do with the college campuses now they are empty. It was never a consultation about how the agricultural training project could be saved.
"Essentially, it was a consultation about selling real estate."
The removal of the educational pathway from legislation was described by opposition agriculture spokesman Tony Perrett as further proof the Labor government didn't care about regional Queensland.
"Labor's decision to close the state's last remaining training colleges raises serious concerns over how the next generation of Queensland farmers will get the education and jobs they need," he said. "Two months have passed since the colleges closed their doors but regional communities, as well as the agriculture industry, remain completely in the dark as to what happens next."
As he has said for a number of months, Mr Furner responded that "well-considered and commercial-in-confidence negotiations are approaching their conclusion", saying he was confident the facilities would contribute to a bright future for the communities they were part of.
He said Mr Perrett and Mr Millar had embarrassed themselves by continuing to talk down the communities of Longreach and Emerald.
"Lachlan Miller has been hiding the LNP's own report on the future of QATC for six years," he said.
"For six years he has been ducking and weaving and pretending he didn't know that students and industry were choosing other options for agricultural education.
"We have had the courage to deal with this reality and take the tough decisions so that these facilities actually have a future."
Mr Millar said in parliament that the Longreach Pastoral College was the only institution that taught the skills needed for the sheep and wool industry.
"The loss of this institution makes absolutely no sense when landholders in western Queensland are making major investments in exclusion fencing to expand their flocks. Where will they find trained wool classers, workers and shearers?"
He compared the new TAFE Qld Rural Centre of Excellence, due to open on February 11 with a simulated vet nursing facility, three traditional classrooms, a large area where machinery could be brought in and demonstrated, and a 'grow pod' or vertical hydroponic farm, with what was being sold off by the government.
"I will start with the simulated vet nursing facility, presumably for treating simulated animals. The Emerald Agricultural College hosted vet students from two different universities so they could learn how to handle large animals like horses and cattle safely.
"They also learnt skills such as pregnancy testing. The Emerald Agricultural College was the only facility in Queensland that had sufficient herd sizes where veterinary students could perfect their skills through repeated practices on large animals.
"Compare the vertical grow pods and a machinery demonstration bay at the new Rural Centre of Excellence with the magnificent Berrigurra property.
"This outstanding property near Blackwater provided students with hands-on experience with farming machinery and hands-on experience with broadacre cropping.
"This is what employees need in order to be job-ready, not watching a demonstration and not studying vertical hydroponics, at least not for most types of farming."
Mr Furner called on the LNP to announce how it would fund the re-opening of the colleges, or "admit they are whinging snipers who have nothing positive to contribute".
State opposition leader Deb Frecklington said in December last year if she were Premier she would keep Longreach and Emerald colleges open by striking a deal with industry.
'Look at source of problem': KAP
Katter's Australian Party leader Robbie Katter called Thursday's outcome a fault of economic rationalism.
"Invariably there is a review done on a college or an industry that is ailing and Professor Coaldrake comes in and says, 'guess what? It is not working. The numbers are down. Let us shut it down.'
"For once, why not look at the source of the problem, which is why are there not more people going through it, and can we fix that.
"If we could stimulate the agricultural or beef industry or had better ways of procuring more young workers there would be more need for it.
"I am sure that is put aside and it is decided that this is costing us too much money and there are not enough people coming through."
Mr Katter said he was utterly unconvinced that there was not an opportunity for the government to step in and drive some interest into those agriculture colleges and try to reinvigorate them.
"It is with a sense of bitterness that we see that coming back in the House," he said, describing the closure of ag colleges in Dalby, Burdekin, Emerald and Longreach as sending a strong signal to people in rural areas and families who want to build communities and a future for their families.
"Even people like myself who live in town but want to know we will have families out there in the future; we are sending a signal that there is no future and we will shut it down.
"There will be other courses, but nothing will be the same as having training in situ."