Two key livestock industry training facilities will remain open and will be ready to take students in 2013, Queensland’s minister for agriculture John McVeigh has assured concerned stakeholders.
The minister last night moved to end growing uncertainty surrounding the future of the Emerald Agricultural College and the Longreach Pastoral College, after a review by Ernst & Young found the training centres were on track to post multi-million dollar losses this year.
Mr McVeigh attributed the losses to “gross mismanagement” by the previous Labor Government, but has issued an assurance that despite their precarious financial position, the LNP Government will not close the colleges.
However, he has yet to clarify how they will be managed in future.
With the State Government owned Australian Agricultural College Corporation that oversees the colleges on track to record its seventh consecutive loss this year, and a $6.8m one at that, a change of approach seems inevitable.
Two clear options include returning the colleges to a system where they are managed by Local Advisory Boards, which is how the facilities were managed prior to the formation of the AACC in 2005, or a full privatisation of the training and management programs.
As reported by Beef Central last week, at least one group of rural stakeholders, led by Western Queensland cattleman and indigenous training program provider Boyd Curran, has expressed an interest in privatising the training in order to keep the colleges open.
Mr McVeigh has offered no clear answers on the likely outcomes.
He said he had met this week with Local Advisory Boards, key agricultural stakeholders and local mayors and CEOs in Emerald and Longreach to outline how he and senior managers would work to turn the management and financial standing of the colleges around.
“There’s absolutely no doubt these colleges need a major shake-up, as highlighted by the Ernst & Young report, but I’m confident we can turn this around and have them be ready for next year’s intake of students at both campuses,” Mr McVeigh said in a media statement.
“This ends any uncertainty for prospective students and their families. They can enrol in courses at either Emerald or Longreach and know that if they put in the hard yards, they can graduate with a recognised agriculture qualification.”
Mr McVeigh said both local advisory boards and agricultural stakeholders have committed to work with him to “fix the mess left by previous Minister Tim Mulherin and Labor” to turn the colleges around and make sure they deliver what industry needs.
“Agricultural training at these campuses must be done in a cost-effective and realistic manner and deliver what industry needs.
“The Ernst & Young review found AACC’s management practices were extremely poor, operating costs were out of control and record-keeping was extremely poor and management had failed to properly audit its campuses for workplace health and safety compliance.
“This happened while Labor’s Agriculture Minister Tim Mulherin sat on his hands and did nothing to stop the ag colleges from careening down the road to ruin,” he said
“I’ve asked my Director General and the AACC’s new interim manager Brent Kinnane to implement an action plan to redress the problems with financial management, work place health safety and other compliance issues. The Newman Government is committed to making agriculture one of the four pillars of our economy as part of our plan to double food production by 2040 and get Queensland back on track.”
Boyd Curran said the minister’s announcement was positive news for the future of the colleges.
“We think it is exciting news for the colleges to remain open, and we look forward to what the outcomes are of the review,” he said.
He said the privatisation plans were still on the table and would be talking to Government later this week.