Tim Nichols and Tony Perrett at the USC building in Gympie.
Tim Nichols and Tony Perrett at the USC building in Gympie. Renee Albrecht

Still no budging on wasted Gympie TAFE building

THE State Labor Government and now the Premier has refused to commit to publicly release an overdue review into TAFE assets which would let Gympie university students know whether they will have more opportunities to study locally, says Gympie MP Tony Perrett.

Mr Perrett said the Premier's refusal in Parliament this week meant yet another year of high school students and mature aged students who want to study locally would be denied.

"On numerous occasions we have been told that the potential lease of an empty and unused Gympie TAFE building to the University of the Sunshine Coast is contingent on the release of the 10-year Strategic Infrastructure Plan.

"Despite being due for release in July last year, and costing almost $1 million in consultations, the Attorney-General and Minister for Training and Skills, Yvette D'Ath, obstinately refuses to release the document or grant a lease to USC.

"TAFE has already said it doesn't even want the building which sits across the carpark from the Gympie campus of the USC.

"The university wants access to the building so that it can increase enrolments and the courses on offer.

"When asked to intervene and commit to the plan's release the Premier ducked and weaved running protection for the ineffectual Minister.

"With a youth unemployment level which has risen by 2.5 % in the last year to 23.5 % in the Wide Bay region the response demonstrates that the Premier and government pays lip service to supporting youth in the regions.

"It is time the Premier was decisive and told the Minister to release the report, make a decision, or be sacked,” he said.

"The Minister has deliberately sat on this decision since the election in January 2015 showing a complete disregard for the Gympie students.

"In those three years someone could have gone to university and now be completing the last semester of a basic undergraduate degree,” he said.

Mr Perrett said that out of sheer bloody-mindedness the Minister has been intransigent in giving Gympie students a choice in tertiary education, a choice in opportunities, or a choice in improving their chances of securing a long term job.

"For a year we were told we had to wait for a review and then after the review was due we were told we had to wait for a draft for a final plan,” Mr Perrett said.

"Late last year the Minister had no idea of a timeline for consultation, a release date for the draft plan or when a final decision on a final plan was due.

"In May the Minister advised that the 'government is taking the time to fully consider stakeholder views before releasing the Plan'.

"Then only two months later at Estimates in July the Director General of the Department of Employment and Training, Dr Watterston, said that 'I make no apology for not having the plan ready'.

"It is obvious the Minister is either not in control of the agenda or the department and is ducking the decision.

"The Minister also told Estimates that "... we will continue to partner with other agencies and with universities” and that "we are happy to enter into arrangements for sharing space where TAFE does not need it in the immediate future”:

"Given this litany of conflicting excuses I have asked two more Questions on Notice which the Minister is required to respond by 11 September.*

"We need clear and unambiguous answers to a number of question including: when the Department advised that the plan was not finalised, when it will be finalised, is there even a timeline on the completion of the plan, and whether interested stakeholders were advised that the plan is still not completed.

"Given that TAFE has previously advised it does not want the building I have also asked when a lease will be granted to the USC and whether it will be in time for students to make a preference for the Gympie campus in the 2018 academic year.

"Gympie students are only asking for a fair go.

"The indecision is creating lost opportunities for local students who are unable to attend university because of distance and financial factors, for the high number of unemployed youth who want to gain skills, for mature-aged students who are trying to upskill but are unable to move away because of work and family commitments, and for our community when students have to move away and permanently and reluctantly leave our region,” he said.

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