Agriculture Minister Mark Furner. File picture
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner. File picture

Ag colleges could be home to refugees

QUEENSLAND'S last two agricultural colleges will close next year, with a report suggesting one of them could be converted into a refugee centre or a prison.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner yesterday announced the closure of the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges after a review found dwindling enrolments had made them "unsustainable".

More than 100 jobs could be lost across central-western Queensland when doors at the residential colleges in Longreach and Emerald close for good at the end of 2019.

Professor Peter Coaldrake's review of vocational education and training in central-western Queensland found residential-based agricultural education was "clearly unsustainable" and there was no "prospect that the model could be resurrected in the future".

Peter Coaldrake. File picture
Peter Coaldrake. File picture

The review canvassed ideas to repurpose the facilities with suggestions for the Longreach Pastoral College site including turning it into a refugee centre, a low security prison or an indigenous training centre.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the "callous" decision was a "hammer blow" to the drought-ravaged bush as a generation of young country people would lose valuable opportunities to forge careers in farming.

She labelled any proposal to send refugees to outback communities where youth unemployment rates were more than 33 per cent a "crackpot idea".

"Queensland is a welcoming, multicultural society, but Longreach Ag College is not the right place to resettle large numbers of refugees," she said.

"Longreach's college was built to give outback kids a future and that's what it should be used for.

"Our Ag Colleges were once the best in Australia but Labor have been deliberately running them down."

Mr Furner said enrolments had been falling for years despite significant government support.

"We have maintained the QATC Emerald and Longreach colleges with significant funding for years but they are well past the point where they are sustainable," he said.

Peak agricultural body AgForce general president Georgie Somerset said she was furious the group had been ignored by the Government before it axed colleges that provided a "vital contribution to the success of modern broadacre agriculture".