Queensland’s Longreach, Emerald ag colleges closure dubbed ‘callous’ and ‘disappointing’
Longreach’s sheep and wool program services demand for shearers and contractors. (ABC Western Queensland: Nicole Bond)
The decision by the Queensland Government to close two agricultural colleges in the central and western regions of the state has been dubbed “callous” and “disappointing”.
The Longreach Pastoral College (LPC) and the Emerald Agricultural College (EAC) were established in the late 1960s.
Following a review by former Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Vice-Chancellor, Peter Coaldrake, the decision to close both schools was made final this week with the state’s Minister for Agriculture Mark Furner calling the teaching model “outdated”.
Mark Furner, Shannon Fentiman and Peter Coaldrake deliver the results of the Coaldrake Review in Longreach. (ABC Rural: Hilary Cassell)
“Certainly in previous governments and this Government we have poured millions of dollars into this program to try and keep it viable, but we have drawn a line in the sand,” Mr Furner said.
“We have decided to close the colleges by the end of 2019. This won’t only affect the colleges but will see an end to QATC (Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges) as an identity.”
End of family legacy
Longreach grazier Rosemary Champion cannot believe the agriculture colleges will be shutting down. (ABC News: Aneeta Bhole)
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Rosemary Champion has been a grazier for more than six decades and said seeing the LPC close is “‘heartbreaking”.
Ms Champion had hoped her grandchildren would attend LPC, following in her children’s footsteps and join the family legacy left behind by her father who co-founded the school.
“This is an institution that’s over 50 years old,” she said.
“It was established by my father and other concerned graziers who wanted a university of the outback.
“It only took him one hour to destroy agricultural training in Queensland and cut the whole industry off at the knees.”
Ms Champion also noted the timing of the announcement and said morale was already low in the community because of drought.
“Two weeks before Christmas. People are devasted — it’s a huge blow,” she said.
“I don’t think we should take this lying down. We’ve had no support from the [Longreach Regional] Council — they have sat on their hands with this.
When Longreach Pastoral College opened in 1967 it was an all-male institution. (ABC Western Queensland: Andrea Crothers)
“I think we need to show them what we’re made of out here.”
‘More could have been done’
Former Student and Longreach grazier Belinda Rowbotham said while schools in New South Wales and Western Australia have made agriculture mandatory, Queensland is falling behind.
“More could have been done … I have no doubt there are people in the community devastated by this,” she said.
“The benefit of having the ag college [is] you had an understanding of where the student was at when they came to the property.”
Ms Rowbotham’s partner Sam Coxon agreed.
“We’re in one of the worst droughts this century. There is a reason there aren’t enough students because the jobs aren’t here at the moment so its very short-sighted to close it,” Mr Coxon said.
Emerald Agricultural College students George Hoey, Angus Dalgliesh, Matthew Bates, Liberty Cullen, Kathleen Thomas and Ashleigh Stevens. (Supplied: Lisa Clarke)
EAC alumni Vince Carige said the college has not been able to keep up with the times.
“I feel they’ve gone off track. They should be focusing on core business,” Mr Carige said.
“Perhaps we don’t need all of them, but we definitely need either Longreach or Emerald.
“If they had listened to people that care about the organisation and let us help things could’ve been different.”
From college to low-security prison
The Coaldrake Review found that the demand for traditional agricultural training has been declining for years, with 16 students expected to graduate from the two campuses next year.
The future of Longreach Agricultural College was put in doubt following the release of the review. (ABC News: Amy Phillips)
The review suggested turning the facility into a low-security jail, Indigenous training centre or refugee accommodation.
AgForce Queensland’s general president, Georgie Somerset, said no consultation was made with the industry.
“We’re really disappointed that we haven’t been included in the conversation about what is to become of the future of agricultural training in Queensland,” Mr Somerset said.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it is yet another blow to the bush.
“This is the most callous act of a Brisbane-based government that could not give a rats about Western Queensland,” he said.
The State Government has committed $7 million to ensure current students can complete their qualification or studies at QATC or through a “supported transition to other training providers”.
Employment opportunities, following consultation with staff and union representatives, will be looked at including retraining, deployment or redeployment.
Local support for student and staff will also be made available and ongoing consultation on what to do with the ag college facilities.