Minister Shannon Fentiman.
Minister Shannon Fentiman. Tracey Nearmy

Will Sunshine Coast Uni finally be able to expand in Gympie?

AFTER three years of campaigning to liberate an empty TAFE building for university expansion in Gympie, the State Government appears ready to play ball.

READ MORE: Earlier stories on the campaign to liberate the empty Gympie TAFE building

READ MORE: 'Dodgy deal' on TAFE building caused incredulity

Gympie MP Tony Perrett said yesterday the State Government had made "conditionally positive overtures" to granting a lease on the empty TAFE building to the University of the Sunshine Coast.

New Minister Shannon Fentiman appears to have brought a new attitude to the unresolved issue, Mr Perrett said

"The University of the Sunshine Coast has been trying to secure a lease of an empty unused and unwanted TAFE building at the Gympie Education precinct so that it can increase its enrolments and offer more courses at the Gympie campus," he said.

"The building sits across the carpark from the Gympie USC site.


Tony Perrett standing in the unused Tafe building the USC is wanting to use.
SILVER LINING? Tony Perrett standing in the unused Tafe building the USC is wanting to use. Renee Albrecht

"Up until now we have been given excuses, stonewalling, and flat out refusal to sign any lease, and watched the farce of the Deputy Premier (visiting) unannounced... asking the Mayor for input and proposing a 'creative solution' involving the GRC going into the tertiary education business.

"After three years of stonewalling and delaying by the previous Minister, Yvette D'Ath, I wrote to the new Minister last month asking for a commitment from the Government to grant a lease.

"The Minister has advised me that officers from the department have contacted the USC to discuss the opportunity of a suitable lease of the unused building at the Gympie campus, subject to mutually agree terms.

"I am cautiously optimistic that we might have a chance to resolve this ridiculous situation where a building that TAFE doesn't even wants has sat empty and unused with the Government showing callous disregard for Gympie students.

"Let's hope that the talks are not disingenuous and that the Government does not manufacture onerous or ridiculous conditions to stop it going ahead.

"I have this week also asked the Minister a Question on Notice seeking further clarification about expected timelines.

"I will not let go of this issue which I have been fighting for since 2015.

"In a region with only 8.4% of residents holding a degree, and an unemployment level 1.8% above the state average being able to study locally means so much for those unable 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.

"A proposal in 2014 was ready for signing before the change of Government and since then USC has jumped through hoops, done everything that has been asked for, and has submitted and resubmitted proposals and applications for the past three years.

"Meanwhile the Government has wasted our taxpayers' dollars by letting the building deteriorate while a willing tenant, who will pay for a lease and refurbish the building, is begging to gain access.

"Last year there were 452 enrolments at the USC from the Gympie region, with only 320 at our local campus, meaning that 132 students had to either relocate or travel outside the region to attend the USC.

"Those local enrolments should be 600 or more.

"I know TAFE and USC want to work collaboratively and it is important to have pathway opportunities from vocational to tertiary education which is already happening at the Gympie site."

Mr Perrett said "bloody mindedness of the Labor Government on this single issue was callous and reckless and demonstrated its contempt for anyone who lived outside its Brisbane centric bubble".

"It was farce and let's hope this new Minister will use common sense and grant that lease," he said.