The drawn-out saga of the closure and repurposing of the former Longreach Pastoral College, and how much it's costing taxpayers, hit the spotlight in the latest Queensland Parliament Estimates session.
At the crux of the exchange between Agricultural Minister Mark Furner and opposition agricultural spokesman Tony Perrett was the figure of $4m allocated in the department's capital grants to finalise long-term decisions on the future of assets formerly held by the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges.
When Mr Perrett asked for the budget breakdown of that figure, Mr Furner reeled off a list that included $2.4 million to finalise long-term decisions on the future of those assets, along with $1m for the upgrade of adoption facilities by the Young Animal Protection Society in Cairns, and $500,000 for the Queensland Country Women's Association for building restoration and renovation programs.
Altogether, they add up to almost $4m.
In the DAF Service Delivery Statements, it shows capital grants of $5.5 million broken down as $4m to finalise the QATC assets, $1m for the YAPS, and $500,000 for the QCWA.
"The answers Minister Furner gave in Estimates show he either was being evasive, deliberately misleading, or that he does not understand his own budget papers," Mr Perrett said. "There is no other conclusion that can be drawn."
Given the opportunity to respond, Mr Furner referred to the $5.5m budget position, at the same time saying it wasn't the first time Mr Perrett had struggled to comprehend the Budget papers.
He also defended the loss of the $32.5m from the sale of Berrigurra, a land asset of the former Emerald Agricultural College, into the government's consolidated revenue.
Mr Perrett said it was concerning that the money hadn't been specifically invested in future agricultural training, but Mr Furner said it was appropriate for the funds to go to consolidated revenue, because it "helped fund vital investments in the future of Queensland agriculture such as drought support, climate adaptation research and the Palaszczuk government's massive investments in agriculture skills and training".
"At the last election the LNP made not one spending commitment to agricultural training, nor did it make any commitment about the former agricultural colleges," he said. "At that same election, the Palaszczuk government committed $45m to regional training facilities."
The majority of that money has been directed to TAFE infrastructure upgrades at Bowen, Toowoomba, Bundaberg and the Whitsundays, to aquaculture training and research at Rockhampton and Bowen State High Schools, and to secondary schools at Clifton, Kingaroy, Roma, St George and Home Hill to upgrade facilities for animal husbandry purposes.
Questioned about the progress of the sale of the former Longreach Pastoral College, Mr Furner said the process for identifying the local marketing agent for the tender had not yet begun.
He said it would begin once land tenure changes were finalised.
"The agent will be selected through an open process open to all Longreach-based agents," he said.
"Once that has been finalised, the tender documents are expected to be published within three weeks and will be publicly available.
"Any suggestion that there is a predetermined outcome of the tender process is completely false, and community benefit will be an important factor in choosing the successful tender."
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