Gympie students graduate despite State 'stonewalling'

THE State Labor Government's refusal to clear the way for Gympie students to study locally was contrasted this week with the graduation of five university students from the Gympie campus, said Gympie MP Tony Perrett.

Mr Perrett said that the graduation of five more students who had studied at the university of the Sunshine Coast Gympie campus was a concrete endorsement of the University's expansion plans.

"The University wants to lease an empty TAFE building just across the carpark at the same site so that it can increase enrolments and offer more courses for local students.

"Instead the State Minister for Training and Skills, Yvette D'Ath, has obstinately refused for the past three years to grant the lease to a building which TAFE says it doesn't even want.

"We have had excuses from the Government is waiting on a management plan of all TAFE assets, to we have to wait for a draft plan for the final plan, to then being told the Government had no timeline and no idea of when either the plan, or draft plan, would be completed or released.

"This is despite spending almost $1 million in consultations and saying two years ago it would be released in July last year.

"Despite being told In May this year that the 'government is taking the time to fully consider stakeholders views before releasing the Plan' the Department Director-General suggested two months later it was even ready telling Estimates in July that 'I have make no apology for not having the plan ready.'

"Last month the Premier refused in Parliament to overrule the Minister and release that elusive assets management plan which is the excuse for the reckless and callous indecision of the Minister.

"Despite being in the region two weeks ago for the sideshow of the Government coming to the Wide Bay the Minister for Training and Skills refused to front up in Gympie with that lease.

"The USC has done everything that the Government has asked for and has been submitting and resubmitting proposals and applications for the past three years.

"A proposal in 2014 was ready for signing before the change of government.

"Last week I invited the Deputy Premier back here to inspect the site, and within a 24 hour turnaround we went from being told the invitation would be considered to once again being told to raise the issue with the very same Minister for Training and Skills who has done absolutely nothing.

"I have reissued that invitation to the Deputy Premier to come here see the site and why is just make so much sense in granting that lease,” he said.

Mr Perrett said that this week's graduation of three Nursing Science students and two Commerce (Accounting) students showed just how much the expansion of the university was needed.

"Imagine how many more could have been at that ceremony,” Mr Perrett said.

"The Gympie region has embraced being able to study at the University of the Sunshine Coast with 361 students in 2015, 421 in 2016, and 452 this year.

Most of those students have to relocate or travel up and down the highway to be able to study.

You have to ask how many more could there have been if those students who cannot move away because of family, work or financial reasons could have enrolled at the Gympie campus.

"In a region with only 13.5% of residents holding tertiary education qualifications, and an unemployment level 2.4% above the state average, the refusal to grant that lease is callous and bloody minded.

"Students in the Minister's, Deputy Premier's and Premier's electorates have the choice of multiple campuses and still are able to live at home and study. Those trying to upskill can go to work and attend university.

"It is time to give Gympie students a fair go so we can celebrate the graduation of many more locals who studied here at home.

"We are about to have another cohort of grade 12 students finish school and without increased access many will be denied this option.

"The indecision is creating lost opportunities for local students who are not able to attend University because of distance and financial factors, for the high number of unemployed youth who want to gain skills, and for mature-aged students who are trying to upskill but are not able to move away because of work and family commitments.

""No more excuses, no more spin, no more duck shoving, and no more hurdles and give the us that lease,” he said.