THE National Farmers’ Federation has backed a call by AgForce for the Queensland Government to hand the keys of two agricultural colleges it plans to axe next year back to industry.
The future of the Longreach and Emerald agricultural colleges remains in limbo, after the Government announced the impending closures last week.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said agriculture was an economic and social pillar of regional, rural and remote Queensland, and farmers were at a loss to understand how constraining the pathways for young people to pursue a career in the industry could be anything but a slight against the bush.
“Agriculture already suffers from an ability to attract young people and to source workers in general. We need more new entrants not less,” Ms Simson said.
Ms Simson said it was hard to believe the Queensland Government had not learned the lesson of its Western Australian counterpart, less than one year ago.
“This time last year, we were fighting to save agricultural colleges in WA from a short-sighted decision to withdraw funding for key agricultural colleges.
“After widespread, very public uproar from remote families and their supporters, the McGowan Government saw the error of its ways, unreservedly apologised and reinstated the funding.”
Ms Simson said the NFF backed a proposal by AgForce for industry to the take over the operation of the colleges.
“These colleges are too important and too well-equipped to lose.
“We congratulate Agforce for putting their hand up to fill the void soon to be left by Government.
“AgForce, as a registered training organisation, has the expertise and the mandate to ensure the colleges remain an important part of the fabric of regional Queensland.”
AgForce has already engaged with producers, community organisations, councils, MPs and others throughout Queensland.
“We’re pleased to hear that, so far, the response has been overwhelmingly in favour of an industry-led solution.”
AgForce General President Georgie Somerset said the colleges were too important to agriculture, and to the many rural and regional communities that depend on agriculture, to allow them to be axed.
“We believe these are unique, irreplaceable assets and we are currently engaging with organisations and community groups around the State to elicit their support and ideas to save them,” says Mrs Somerset.
“The response so far has been overwhelmingly in favour of an industry-led solution.
“AgForce’s plan is to overhaul these institutions and the services they offer to form the backbone of a comprehensive, future-looking rural research and education system that offers benefits beyond agriculture.
“These well-equipped colleges, with their unique locations and infrastructure, offer opportunities to support profitable and sustainable agriculture in areas like carbon-neutral farming, drought mitigation, flora and fauna conservation, reef preservation and increased indigenous and female participation.”
Mrs Somerset says this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for agriculture.
“AgForce strongly believes it is time for much-needed reform to the education and skills training available to rural Queenslanders, especially agriculture-specific curriculum,” she says.
“But the Government has thrown its hands in the air and, without any industry consultation, decided to close the colleges because they cannot make them relevant to the end user.
“We firmly believe that industry itself is best placed to oversee innovative, outcomes-focused research, education and skills training that will ensure broadacre agriculture continue to grow as a world leader.
“As the peak body for broadacre agriculture – and Australia’s only State farming organisation accredited as an RTO – AgForce has the expertise, the will and the remit to lead this initiative.
“We are already having informative discussions with producers, community organisations, Councils, MPs and others throughout Queensland, as well as with other primary producer peak bodies.
“The reaction we are getting is tremendously encouraging and gives us great confidence that not only are we doing the right thing, but that, with the support of rural and regional Queensland, we can make this work.
“People in the bush are accustomed to looking out for themselves when Government fails to listen or act, and this is another example of us stepping up to secure the future of our industry, and its multi-billion contribution to the State economy.”
The Queensland Resources Council has also back AgForce’s call to keep the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges at Longreach and Emerald running.
QRC Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said strong commodity prices, which are delivering record returns through existing royalty taxes, meant the Palaszczuk Government could invest in a plan to ensure the long-term future of the colleges.
“Agriculture and mining are our state’s two primary industries. Each sector plays an important role in Queensland’s economy and its character,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“We work hand-in-hand with the agriculture sector through shared access to land and shared returns to landholders. Returns from the resources sector help sustain rural and regional communities when times are tough, including during the recent drought.
“Resources royalty taxes are forecast to contribute $4.45 billion to the State’s budget this year. This is the return on resources investment that benefits all Queenslanders, whether it’s through building roads and hospitals, paying the wages of teachers and nurses, or investing in rural education and infrastructure.
“Given strong commodity prices and global demand, we expect that return on resources will be revised up before Christmas. Those extra calculations are currently underway.
“Even stronger returns from resources investment provide the Queensland Government with more options for the future of these agricultural colleges. It could also help fund a transition period to the industry ownership advocated by AgForce. This would mean the colleges could stay open beyond the end of 2019.
“A strong agricultural skills base helps strengthen rural communities, which in turn benefits the entire regional economy including sectors like resources, small business and tourism.
“Investments in agriculture, just like investments in resources, benefit all Queenslanders and help put our state on a strong footing for the future.”