PEAK Queensland farmer body AgForce has called for an urgent step change in agricultural education, following the controversial sale of Longreach Pastoral College for $12.4 million.
As industry and rural communities wait to find out who has acquired the State Government facility, the organisation is pushing for greater emphasis on industry education.
Tenders for the Longreach Pastoral College were awarded last Friday, but a consortium of 10 large pastoral companies, led by the AAM Investment was outbid for the 17, 511ha property and college facilities, that have been divided between three separate bids – with the new owners yet to be announced.
The AAM consortium, including industry companies Australian Country Choice, Cleveland Ag, Consolidated Pastoral Company, The Curr Family, Georgina Pastoral, Hewitt Cattle Australia, McDonald Holdings, Mort & Co and the North Australian Pastoral Company made a highly publicised bid for the aggregation in February. The plan was to take control of the facility and let others run it. Instead the Government has sold it in three separate configurations:
All land south of the Landsborough Highway (campus and grazing land)
Grazing land north of the Landsborough Highway.
Improved farming land adjacent to the Thomson River.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said the sale price of $12.4m exceeded independent market valuations. The spokesperson said 17 tenders were received; however, a number did not conform with the requirements of the process.
“The buyers and prices paid for the individual parcels of land remain commercial-in-confidence until expected settlement in late May.
“The Queensland Government made a commitment that the tender process would consider both the price offered and the proposed community benefit for Longreach and the wider region,” the spokesperson said.
“The exact nature of the proposed community benefits is still subject to commercial-in-confidence requirements until settlement; however, the government expects the successful bidders will deliver on the commitments to the community that they have made through the tender process, including increased jobs and economic activity through tourism, horticulture, education and training, and livestock production activities.”
Longreach college break up a ‘lost opportunity’
The AAM Investment Group (AAM) has expressed its deep disappointment at the outcome of the tender process to acquire the former Longreach Pastoral College site.
The consortium’s proposal included a commitment to explore all options to ensure the college facilities and associated assets, became a trusted source of knowledge sharing and education services to the Northern Australian farm sector and one that enriched local communities.
AAM managing director and chief executive officer, Garry Edwards, said the Queensland Government’s decision was an opportunity lost.
“In preparation of the tender options direct consultation was undertaken with a broad demographic of stakeholders to ensure what was being proposed would meet the needs of industry and the local community. Additionally, over 3300 individuals and organisations signed a letter of support of our proposal showing the importance of this opportunity,” Mr Edwards said.
“While we respect the government’s right to make this decision as the owner of the asset, it is tremendously disappointing that no one assessing the tenders reached out or engaged in a single discussion or meeting relating to the consortium’s multiple concepts for highly effective and beneficial ways the site could be utilised.
“I personally think it was incredibly poor judgement they could not find the time to meet and hold any form of discussion when this is such an important issue for the agricultural industry and regional Queensland.”
AgForce hopeful new owners will work with industry
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said he remained hopeful that the successful bidders would work with industry to deliver the training so desperately needed.
“Existing ag education in this country is simply not adequate or fit for purpose.
“As technology and innovation continue to drive broader and different career pathways for young people into the industry, a contemporary training infrastructure sits central to delivering that opportunity and allowing those young people clear pathways and support,” he said.
“It is critical to underpinning the social, environmental, and economic benefits industry can and does bring to Australia.”
In coming weeks, AgForce said it will finalise its new joint training venture with Response – an enterprise that will look for partnerships, collaboration, and co-design opportunities.
Mr Guerin hoped there would be an opportunity to work with the new owners of Longreach Pastoral College.
“We are optimistic that the successful bidders will be open to collaboration with industry.
“Agriculture is an essential industry and providing industry-relevant training is vital to ensuring the current and future workforce is ‘job ready’ with the skills needed.”
Surely Mr Edwards isn’t silly enough to think that the powers that be would be interested in anything but obtaining the highest price, as opposed to the consortium’s best intentions for the reincarnation of a rural training facility?